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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Post "Good Google", Who Will Defend The Open Web?

In a recent discussion on Hacker News, user andyl made the following comment:

“Before Google+ came along, Google had many great products and embraced the OpenWeb. Now Google has abandoned Open Standards like RSS and CalDAV, and I think Google is more interested in building their own walled garden.”

My first thought was: “Bingo, you nailed it.”

My second, third and subsequent thoughts were something like this:

This is a *very* unfortunate development, as Google were uniquely positioned to be great defenders of the Open Web, and - for quite some time - seemed to *be* defenders of the Open Web. Now, one has to ask: Who will defend the Open Web, post “Good Google?”

Sadly, there are not a lot of obvious candidates. One wonders, who else has the clout to do it now, as well as the motivation? Does anybody see Marissa moving Yahoo that way? I'm guessing "no" but would love to be proven wrong. Yahoo *have* done some pro Open Web things in the past, but even if they had the inclination, I’m not sure they have the clout to do a lot, especially since they don’t even run their own search engine anymore.

It won't be Microsoft, you can bet on that. They have been notoriously inimical towards Open Standards, Open Source, and pretty much “Open Anything” for most of their history. And I haven’t seen any recent evidence to suggest any fundamental change of heart on their end.

Red Hat are a moderately powerful company, but they aren't *that* big and could wind up acquired by Oracle tomorrow for all we know. And they aren't that into services and web applications.

I think they have the right spirit and attitude, and probably will prove to be a valuable ally in the fight to preserve an Open Web, but I don’t think they can have the influence of a Google.

Mozilla have a lot of clout on the browser side, but arguably much less so than in years past, as their market share has slipped. Also, they are pretty much locked solely into the client side, as they don’t really offer services or make any server side software.

Amazon? Nope, don't see them stepping up to defend the Open Web. Although... let’s not write them off completely. It *might* be in the best interests of their AWS side, to promote Open Web standards. But the E-commerce side, I imagine want to create their own ”walled garden” especially on mobile devices.

Facebook? Hell no.

LinkedIn? No, not seeing this. They are very much a walled garden now, and obviously aren’t interested in Open Standards. For example, notice that you can’t even do something as simple as search Companies by NAICS codes on LinkedIn.

Sun? Maybe if they hadn't been acquired by Oracle.

IBM? Maybe not totally ridiculous, but history doesn't paint the best picture of IBM in this regard. And they also don't really offer services over the web, like a search engine. Maybe they could scale Watson up to webscale and make that the new Google?

Wolfram? No. Everything they make and do is proprietary, including Alpha.

The Wikimedia Foundation? Yes! They certainly have the right spirit and attitude, and they DO have a decent degree of influence, thanks to the popularity of Wikipedia and related projects. Like Red Hat, they can't do it alone however.

There has been a lot of discussion over the past few years about the Open Web, and I think most Hackers agree that it’s an important principle. But recent developments have perhaps put a pall over the idea. Let us hope this proves to not be true!

Right now, other than the Wikimedia Foundation, Red Hat and Mozilla, the most obvious candidate for “defender of the Open Web” is simply the broader “hacker community” and the “free culture” community (especially where they overlap). In other words, it’s US. Me, you, the guy in the back of the room with the bad hair, the sterno bum at the corner of 5th and Main, whoever. But competing against large, influential commercial interests as a grassroots movement is never easy. Hopefully one or more additional companies or organizations will also emerge as new champions of the Open Web and help usher us into a new era.

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