The news is full of transitions. Chad Dickerson returns to his East Coast after years at Yahoo! and InfoWorld. Steve Jobs faces concerns about his health as Apple prepares to ripple their product line. The social media community is caught in a crossfire between market force power plays and standards body jockeying.
We don’t know how any of this will turn out, but history as always suggests clues as to direction and results. The history of the technology community is never just about youth and drive, nor experience and watchful waiting to strike. It’s a combination, the subtle alchemy of a Jobs denying the logic of first video and then the phone, then suddenly launching one after the other. The locked down protection of access to outside iPhone development, then the leveraging of an outside SproutCore framework to rapidly leapfrog Mesh and Silverlight with MobileMe.
Dickerson helped engineer the Beck concert in the middle of Yahoo’s campus, a gift to the developer community that led to Brickhouse and a strong signal of cluefulness that continues to this day, albeit under Google’s clever repackaging with a series of Campfire announcements and Google I/O, and Facebook’s second F8 developer conference later today. These company-specific announcements have seen a mixture of company officials, engineers, and a surprising number of free-range activists from the ad hoc standards world.
People like David Recordon, who will announce a new open web initiative at OSCON on Thursday, and Joseph Smarr of Plaxo(soon to close as a ComCast acquisition) pop up all over the Valley at these proprietary events to lend support, validation, and not a little positioning of themselves arbiters of “what’s fair” as the social media leaders try to coopt a growing sense of the value of user control of data.
Rewinding to similar points in the consolidation of Web services and RSS, it’s instructive to realize that the tortoise often beat the hare in pushing back progress until the native power of these standardizing technologies achieved enough momentum to warrant the peace with honor necessary to force the big vendors into adoption. Adam Bosworth cleverly used Microsoft’s need to grow into a Web strategy and IBM, Oracle, Sun, and others’ desire to create an alliance around XML to get initial exploratory buy-in from Gates, then brought the rest in for feedback, then turned around and forced Gates to jump in for real to stay ahead of the competition.
This time Google has the whip hand with Friend Connect, calling Facebook’s initial bluff and forcing yet another restatement of the Facebook tight wire balancing act between protecting its cloud and user privacy from the data portability meme. But do users really want portability or just the utility of leveraging their identities and those of their peers around the Web with as much elasticity as possible.
Did the heavy handed Web Services Interoperability (WS-I) conspiracy between Microsoft and IBM really win the day, or lightweight easily consumable services such as RSS that almost a decade later now for the backbone of Microsoft’s forthcoming Mesh architecture. SOAP and REST, the rise of XMPP – over and over again the inexorable drip drip drip of simple is as simple does keeps winning.
It’s always seductive to couch these waves of evolution and disruption in anthropomorphic terms, putting pants on Disney characters and watching well-meaning adventurers sweet-talking bears only to get eaten by them in the end. There’s billions at stake in this social media sweepstakes, and while we appreciate the folks who venture in with good intentions and youthful vigor, it’s important to put some money on those who understand how Moore’s Law makes simple powerful no matter how innocent and fragile it appears at inception. The early bird gets the worm, but who gets the bird may count for even more.