Brij Singh's Blog

May 19, 2008

What kind of openness you want?

Filed under: Tech — Brij @ 8:55 pm

Something has to be said about the flurry of blog posts coming out with words like "revolution", "data portability", "freedom" , "It's your data" and "open" etc.

Suddenly I started seeing parallel to this in something I read long time back. What was that? Animal Farm? Or was it 1984? Or maybe Brave New World? In any case the story of Utopian quest is just that: been-there-done-that. Two legged still an enemy.

I really respect Umair's strategic insights on digital media and related topics but on his recent post he got me confused. I am hearing lot about openness but nobody is defining the real nature of openness we are debating. What kind of openness really matters?

We are dealing with three kinds of openness –

Openness of intent (which is what search history is all about – Google is a natural monopoly). Nobody is demanding openness for that yet, since the value of that data is not widely appreciated. Just wait for few more years. As search gets increasingly performed against new data, we will begin to appreciate the importance of this monopoly. Time spread between intent and action is getting squeezed at alarming rate. Search used to be about research. We are going into action phase now.

Second kind of openness is about computing environment (Windows platform being the evil lock – Microsoft holds historical lead here, cloud computing and mobile platforms are making a big dent in this monopoly, final verdict still TBD)

Openness of social graph. This is apparently Facebook monopoly, facts don't add up for this kind of monopoly. Since Facebook invented (!) social graph we generally tend to think that their monopoly is  near above two monopolies. Again facts don't add in this equation.  Facebook (for that matter all social networks with rich database and community presence) is an emerging threat to the business model built around harvesting of intention. By engaging our social network in our intention exchange, we are making less number of search queries. Google's Open Social is a defensive strategy to neutralize that emerging threat.

It's a classic somebody's music somebody's migraine problem. It's not about open versus close. You open what is not core to you. That's what we are seeing in Google strategy. I am a big fan of Google culture but let's face it they also have shareholders.

Google has our years and years of intention data locked up in it's search history database. That is closed. It's not even available via API. It's scandalous that nobody is demanding that kind of openness. Imagine the kind of creative applications one can write if Google opens up all search history (off-course by first making sure privacy issues are resolved).

To Umair's point:

Contrast that with Google's shift to openness – can you see how it unlocks value for everyone? That's why Microsoft's move is a textbook example of how not to think strategically at the edge. It's yet another example why Google is in a class of its own – across the economy – when it comes to next-generation strategy. Google opening up its ad networks is strategic greatness at work.

It does unlock value but only for known contexts. If we wipe out last four or five years of social media innovation, I doubt Google would  even be thinking of doing Open Social. It doesn't naturally fit in their search goals. It's a defensive play for them. Now I must add that I greatly admire Google as a company and things they have done for technology world is beyond comparison.

I am not convinced that we are doing right debate on the definition of open and what kind of open we really need to worry about. I love the debate around data portability and what not. So far none of the posts have come out cleanly in explaining what kind of openness we are talking here and why that openness will be the one which is going to be valuable in next generation.

Maybe we can address this by asking what these three companies would love to hide in next 4 to 5 years!

Issue is not openness, it's about exacting unfair price on things which are closed.

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