22 posts categorized "Walled Gardens"

An Excellent Read: The Verge on how "Google shapes everything on the web"

If you want to understand how we got to the Web that we have today, I would strongly recommend reading this beautiful piece by Mia Sato at The Verge on the theme of “Google shapes everything on the Web

It is an interactive piece that explains in both text and animations why it is that search engine optimization (SEO) has driven every website to look the same… why even short articles are being broken up by headings… why author bylines are suddenly expanding into bios…  … and why the #Web is increasingly bland, useless, and untrustworthy

It also explains why increasingly people are using other search experiences (ex TikTok) - or moving content into other systems - purely because the Web is no longer working in the way it used to. It’s now gamed by so many… and filled with generative-AI spawned content farms….

Certainly some of us keep posting to our good old websites or blogs… largely because they were and are labors of love, not profit.

But those seeking profit or fame are all playing the SEO game… and we with our regular old websites will lose out on the discovery.

I thought one of the final paragraphs was on point about the paywalling of content (my emphasis added):

But no matter what happens with Search, there’s already a splintering: a web full of cheap, low-effort content and a whole world of human-first art, entertainment, and information that lives behind paywalls, in private chat rooms, and on websites that are working toward a more sustainable model. As with young people using TikTok for search, or the practice of adding “reddit” to search queries, users are signaling they want a different way to find things and feel no particular loyalty to Google.

People are looking for alternatives, and increasingly they are moving to private communities / walled gardens in large part to avoid the spam... and to avoid the blandness and overall "enshittification" of the Web.

Returning to POSSE - Writing on my own site, THEN on Facebook, Twitter, etc

Sheriff posse flickr tom kelly

Over the past few weeks as I’ve been grappling with colon cancer, it has been soooooooooo tempting to just pop open the Facebook app, write a story in the box and press “Share”.

Simple. Easy. Done!

Or inside the Twitter app… or LinkedIn… or… or...

But here’s the problem with that...

All the stories get LOCKED INSIDE A PLATFORM!

They are there living on the platform’s servers, inside the platform’s systems.  Maybe they are visible publicly, maybe they aren’t.  Maybe they will be around in two years, maybe they won’t.  Maybe people will find them, maybe they won’t.

The future of your stories is entirely at the whim of the platform.

As I wrote about on the Internet Society’s blog earlier this year, one of my own guiding principles is “POSSE“, a content publishing model from the “IndieWeb” movement:

Publish on your

And so over these past few weeks, I tried really hard to do that with my journey through cancer: the diagnosis, followed by the recovery, followed by the results.

But it’s HARD. It was so insanely tempting yesterday when I got the great news just to pop open Facebook and share it with everyone.

But when I do that… it’s shared ONLY within Facebook’s shiny “walled garden”. It’s not shared with people I know who choose NOT to use Facebook. It’s not shared with the communities I’m in on other social networks.

The “open Web” on top of the “open Internet” is really the only way to do that. But it’s hard. There’s extra steps involved for me right now with the way my various blogs are set up.  I want to work to make that easier and simpler… but doing so will take time… which is challenging to find.

But if we don’t find ways to OWN OUR OWN STORIES then they will stay locked away in closed, proprietary walled gardens.  And maybe that’s fine for some of those stories. Maybe they are small and mundane… “in the moment” stories that we don’t really care about. But even so, we feed the platforms. We help them to grow.

 I’ll keep trying to follow the POSSE rule… and I’ll be writing more here about that.

Image credit: Tom Kelly on Flickr CC BY NC ND

Do Facebook Instant Articles Support The Open Web... or Facebook's Walled Garden?

Facebook instant articles

Will Facebook's impending opening up of its "Instant Articles" on April 12 to ALL publishers of content help the "open web"? Or will it just keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny walled garden?

As Facebook's launch announcement says in part:

We built Instant Articles to solve a specific problem—slow loading times on the mobile web created a problematic experience for people reading news on their phones. This is a problem that impacts publishers of all sizes, especially those with audiences where low connectivity is an issue.


Facebook’s goal is to connect people to the stories, posts, videos or photos that matter most to them. Opening up Instant Articles will allow any publisher to tell great stories, that load quickly, to people all over the world. With Instant Articles, they can do this while retaining control over the experience, their ads and their data.

It sounds great on many levels and blogging pioneer Dave Winer has written passionately about "How Instant Articles helps the open web" (also published on Medium). He went on to document his Instant Articles (IA) feed and to talk about how his blog posts now automagically stream out to Facebook Instant Articles along with other services: Oh the places this post will go!

The beautiful part about Instant Articles is that it is based on good old RSS feeds ... and so with a few additions to the markup of your RSS feed you could be ready to go technically to start publishing Instant Articles. (There are a number of other steps you need to do, though.) Even better, and a point Dave definitely makes, Facebook Instant Articles will update when you make changes to your original text - something that doesn't happen with services (such as Medium) where you can syndicate your articles after you write them... but they don't update.

As Dave notes in "How IA happened from my point of view" by quoting me (in my comment left on Medium), I think this a great step in allowing publishers to easily get their content into Facebook's Instant Articles. My quote said:

"I have expected that Facebook would be focused on keeping everyone inside their shiny walled garden and thought I understood that Instant Articles involved putting your content on FB’s servers… which I now understand it *does*, but via caching of an RSS feed. Which is VERY cool!"

In my previous quick reading about Instant Articles, I had understood that it involved publishers loading their content onto Facebook's servers - and so I thought that we who publish would be forced to load our content onto FB's servers separate from our own websites.

In other words, I thought we would need to publish twice.

This, to me, would NOT support the "open web" that exists outside the big walled gardens of content that we are seeing now evolving.

I thank Dave for helping me understand that Facebook very nicely chose to base IA on the consumption of RSS feeds. This allows us as publishers to create our content once and syndicate it out to Facebook Instant Articles.

This is good and very much in line with the IndieWeb thinking around "POSSE - Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere" that I very much believe in. I applaud Facebook for making it so easy for content publishers to make our content available as Instant Articles.


Is the existence of Instant Articles good for the open web?

Right now, when I post a link in Facebook to an article on one of my sites:

when people follow that link they view the article on MY site.

On MY web server, running somewhere out on the distributed, de-centralized and "open" web.

(Which, yes, is increasingly getting centralized in terms of content hosting providers, but let's leave that for a separate article. The point is that I currently do have multiple choices for where I host that content.)

People can interact with my site, see my content there, potentially leave comments there on the site, etc.

My site, and the content on that site, is not dependent on Facebook.

The key point about viewing Instant Articles is:

Reading "Instant Articles" keeps you ENTIRELY within Facebook's walled garden.

You read the Instant Articles inside of your Facbook mobile app. You comment and interact with the article inside of Facebook's app.

All the interaction happens within Facebook's mobile app.

Yes, as a publisher I can get analytics about my content, including via other services such as Google Analytics.

And yes, all the Instant Articles content is pulled in from my website out on the "open web". But while that content is pulled in using "open protocols",

the content is cached (stored) on Facebook's servers and made available through Facebook's own networks.

Over time publishers might start to ask:

Why not simply publish everything DIRECTLY inside of Facebook?

With Instant Articles, Facebook is already serving out my content from their servers... why don't I simplify my workflow even more by just publishing all my content natively inside of Facebook?

And if I were Facebook that would be what I would ultimately want. Even more content exclusively inside MY walled garden that would keep people staying inside those shiny walls.

Yes, User Experience Matters

Having said all of this, I do understand WHY Facebook is doing this beyond the obvious desire to keep people in their walled garden:

The mobile user experience of reading/viewing content has a HUGE need for improvement!

Even with the push by Google and many others to make the web "mobile-friendly" there is still a huge amount of room for improvement.

We need to speed up the "mobile web" and to improve the user experience.

Facebook is trying to do this with Instant Articles. Google is trying to do this with "Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP)", which I'll be soon writing an article about. Apple would like to do this with Apple News.

All of those efforts, though, do speed up the mobile web ... but only for users of specific apps / browsers / etc.. Each of the efforts creates a better mobile user experience, but within their own walled gardens.

And I do understand that from Facebook's point of view the mobile user experience isn't as seamless as it could be when people are in the Facebook app and then follow a link out to a completely different look-and-feel and a completely different user experience.

It can be jarring. And it may not work all that well.

Instant Articles will bring a significantly better user experience to users of the Facebook mobile apps.

As a user of those Facebook apps, I can see that being a good thing. Admittedly I sometimes do not follow links I see in my NewsFeed because I know from experience that the site linked to loads slowly and I don't have time at that moment to wait to view that article. I want to see it NOW.

But is the price of a better user experience worth the continued centralization of content within large walled gardens?

And will anyone really care... as long as they can read their article as fast as possible?

Will I Publish Through Facebook Instant Articles?

Of course!

I'm not stupid! The reality is that right now a huge amount of the audience I want to reach is within Facebook's shiny walled garden - and uses Facebook's NewsFeed as a primary way of getting much of their content. I am there myself and do get a large number of links that I visit on a daily basis through what I see in my Facebook NewsFeed.

Like Dave Winer already does, I'm working to see what I can do to make at least a few of my sites accessible via Instant Articles by the April 12 launch. (For instance, I see WordPress plugins for IA already emerging and FB themselves provides some guidance for content management systems.)

I'll do it because my end goal is to get my content seen by the people who I want to reach.

And right now, Facebook is the way that so many people consume content.

I have to go where the conversation is happening.

Do I worry, though, about the long-term effects this may have on the "open web"?


And I think you should, too.

We Need An Open Internet

We need an "open web" ... and a far larger "open Internet" ... where we don't have to ask permission to communicate, connect, collaborate and create (what many of us call "permissionless innovation").

The centralization of content, both in terms of publishing of content and consumption of content, is a very worrisome trend.

Huge, centralized walled gardens such as Facebook today can make Instant Articles "open to everyone" ... but tomorrow they could start to play much more of the "gatekeeper" role, determining:

  • precisely "who" gets to publish content to the Facebook audience (which they are already doing in a way through the process of applying for Instant Article access);
  • whether that content gets to be seen by all Facebook users (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm and could do even more now that Facebook Reactions are out);
  • whether that content gets to be seen for free - or for a price (which they are already doing with the NewsFeed algorithm for displaying Pages content and letting you "boost" content).

Yes, I'll publish through Facebook Instant Articles (assuming my feeds get approved) because it will help Facebook users more easily view my content.

And I'm glad that Facebook chose to use RSS as the base to allow us to easily publish our content as Instant Articles without having to create a separate mechanism for publishing to Facebook.

I just worry that in then end this will only help keep more people inside of Facebook's shiny and pretty walled garden ... versus interacting with the many other sites and services that make up the larger open Internet.

What do you think?

Will you start publishing your content as Facebook Instant Articles? Do you think that we as content providers have much of a choice if we want to reach people on Facebook? What do you think this will do long-term?

An audio podcast about Facebook Instant Articles is also available:

UPDATE #1 - In a bit of synchronicity, Dave Winer published a new post - Who should support IA and how - at about the same time as I posted mine. He suggests that IA should be used as essentially the improved plumbing to make the mobile user experience better across different platforms and walled gardens. I don't disagree.. but I wonder how many of the other walled gardens (ex. Twitter, Medium) would actually support Facebook's protocol. (Sounds like a topic for another blog post...)

The Importance of The 'Known' Publishing Platform And The Rise Of The Indie Web

Known logoHow do we retain control of our content? How can we make sure what we write and create online remains online? How do we make it so that we can post our content in one place and distribute it out to social networks? And the bring the conversations that happen out on social networks back into your own site?

In a time when Facebook, Google, Apple and others seem to be intent on owning and controlling all our data and content, how do we regain control over our presence online? How do we stop being the product?

These are questions of focus for the "IndieWeb" movement that are perhaps best stated by this text on the top of indiewebcamp.com:

Your content is yours
When you post something on the web, it should belong to you, not a corporation. Too many companies have gone out of business and lost all of their users’ data. By joining the IndieWeb, your content stays yours and in your control.

You are better connected
Your articles and status messages can go to all services, not just one, allowing you to engage with everyone. Even replies and likes on other services can come back to your site so they’re all in one place.

You are in control
You can post anything you want, in any format you want, with no one monitoring you. In addition, you share simple readable links such as example.com/ideas. These links are permanent and will always work.

As well as in greater detail on the IndieWeb principles page. A key point is what is called "POSSE":

POSSE = Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere

The idea being, again, that you own your own content and then share it out to the other services where people can engage with that content.

Another way to think of this is that the IndieWeb is distributed and decentralized ... kind of like the "Web" used to be before people increasingly started using centralized platforms such as Facebook and Google's properties.

The "IndieWeb" has been around for several years now, but this month it gained some momentum with the launch of Known, a new blogging platform built on IndieWeb principles. Mathew Ingram introduced it on GigaOm with:

The Known software is available in two forms:

And yes, this is very similar to WordPress with the hosted version at WordPress.com and the standalone version at WordPress.org. (And in fact, WordPress can support many of the IndieWeb principles through various plugins.)

One of the interesting aspects is that your instance of Known can use some of the IndieWeb protocols such as Webmention to communicate with other instances of Known - as well as other sites that support the IndieWeb protocols.

The Known software is also "responsive" so that it works well on mobile devices - and the entire code base is open source so that anyone can see what it is all about and modify or extend it. On For Immediate Release (FIR) Podcast #773 I devoted most of my report to talking about Known and the Indie Web - and Shel Holtz spoke at some length about the platform, too. And both Shel and I referenced Leo Laporte's This Week in Google 266 where he had Known co-founders Ben Werdmûller and Erin Jo Richey on as guests, as well as Kevin Marks. I would encourage you to listen to them all if you are interested in further discussion.

To me this issue of owning your own content is critical. Perhaps THE most critical question in many ways to me personally.

It goes back to the question of what kind of Internet do we want?

Do we want one in which we are in control - and have control of our own data and content? Or do we want an Internet where the content we create is locked inside of corporate walled gardens? (Even if those gardens let us display it to the world... we still may not be able to easily get it out.)

I don't know if I'll honestly keep using danyork.withknown.com in the long term, or whether I'll install the Known software directly on one of my servers... or whether I'll just look at making my WordPress installations play as nicely as possible with the IndieWeb protocols.

I'm certainly going to continue to experiment for some time... I've been watching the Github repo and their issue tracker and have been quite impressed with the ongoing work of the Known team.

The key point is that wherever I post my intent is that I will not be locked in to closed proprietary systems. Known and the IndieWeb are more tools that we have in our toolbox that let us retain our freedom and control!

P.S. If you want to give Known a try, visit the withknown.com hosted platform to get started! It's free and easy to sign up.

NOTE: Given that Ello has been getting quite a buzz in the last few days (and I can also be found there: ello.co/danyork ), it is worth pointing out the difference:

  • Known is an open source, freely-available blogging/publishing platform that you can either use in a hosted version or on your own site. You can publish your own status updates, blog posts and audio content - and share those posts out to social networks. Think of it as similar to WordPress.
  • Ello is a closed source (proprietary), invite-only (right now) social network where you can follow friends and share status updates, photos, links, etc. It currently has no APIs or method to export your data. Think of it as similar to Facebook.

That's the key difference - Known is a blogging platform while Ello is a social network.

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either:

As An Author, Why I Truly Hate Ebook DRM

DayAgainstDRMAs an author of multiple technical books, and a prolific online writer, I care a lot about intellectual property issues as they pertain to my content. On one level, you might think I would be extremely concerned about people stealing and re-using my content. And don't get me wrong... I am concerned. I choose distribution licenses carefully and I have pursued those who have scraped my content to simply wrap it in ads.

But I do NOT see "DRM" as the answer.

As a reader and as an author, I truly hate Digital Rights Management (DRM) for ebooks and look forward to the day when it ceases to exist. My latest book, "Migrating Applications to IPv6" was published DRM-FREE by O'Reilly and I plan to publish all future books DRM-free as well.

So on this "Day Against DRM", let me clearly state WHY as an author I am against DRM:

1. DRM Is Anti-Reader

DRM starts from the premise that all readers are slimeballs and thieves. That they will steal a book rather than pay for it. That readers are inherently untrustworthy and need to be monitored, policed, checked.

Is that really the relationship I want with my readers?

Do I really think that all my readers are crooks?

With a printed book, as a reader, when I buy a book, it is mine. I have a piece of dead trees that I can read wherever I want. In a chair. In bed. Outside under a tree. In the bathroom. On a train. In a hammock. In a car. At night. In the morning.

Wherever. Whenever.

Beyond that, I can give my book to someone else. I can lend it to a friend. I can let my wife read it. Or my daughter. Or my mother or father. I can... (gasp)... sell that book to someone. Or I can donate it to a library or church or book sale.

It is my book, to do with it as I will.

With "ebooks", the argument is that they are so much easier to pass around. That because it is electronic bits, the book can be emailed or otherwise sent to people. It can be published on websites. It can be sold by people other than the author/publisher. It can "escape" from the control of the author and publisher.

All of which is true.

But is DRM really the answer? Is treating all people as thieves and locking down the content really the answer?

Now, granted, there is a grain of truth in there... some readers will steal a book, but would they have paid for it in the first place? Some people will steal paper books from bookstores and libraries, too! Some people will steal books from other people.

Some people are thieves - but just because of that, does it warrant treating all people as thieves?

2. DRM Locks Readers In To Platforms

Every time you buy a book for the Amazon Kindle, you are just that much more locked in to Amazon's "walled garden". If you decide you are tired of the Kindle and want to try another reader, sorry...

... you can't take your books with you!

They are locked to the Kindle. Now, yes, you can use the Kindle "app" on your PC or other device (like an iPad), but you are still locked in to Amazon's Kindle ecosystem.

This is the beauty and genius of the whole scheme from Amazon's point of view. Make it super-simple for people to buy and read ebooks... and get a whole generation of people locked in to your ereader platform.

And then Amazon gets to use its power as platform to bully publishers and authors so that in the end Amazon gets higher profits. If pretty much the only route to readers winds up being through the Kindle ecosystem, then Amazon gets to dictate how your ebooks get distributed - and at what cost.

Authors get screwed. Publishers get screwed. Ultimately readers get screwed. But Amazon makes a healthy profit.

Lest you think I am purely anti-Amazon, I'm not... they're just the biggest. Barnes & Noble's Nook, Apple's iBookstore, the Kobo reader... any of them can equally lock you in with DRM... and all of them would probably love to have the kind of lock-in that Amazon has right now!

With DRM-free ebooks, we can read them on whatever platform you want - and change ereaders and devices. We are not locked in!

[UPDATE: In a comment to this post, a reader named Markus points out another downside to DRM-enabled ebook platforms - a platform can easily "unpublish" an ebook. The ebook can just "disappear" and be removed both from the online service and also from your own ereader. Remotely. Without any involvement on your part. Gone. Because you are locked into the platform's infrastructure and don't own your ebook, you are completely at the mercy of the platform operator.]

3. DRM Adds Unneeded Complexity

Want to see how badly DRM screws up the reader experience? Check out these instructions for how to get started with ebooks that you borrow from your library - specifically take a look at these slides about how to borrow ebooks with a Nook or Sony Reader.


You have to be seriously committed to wanting to borrow ebooks to go through all these steps! It's crazy! And then to have to go through many of those steps each and every time you want to borrow an ebook?


And all because libraries must include DRM in order to make the books available to their readers.

This kind of complexity exists with DRM ebooks... except of course for the platforms that make it so insanely easy, at the price of locking you in.

4. DRM Stifles Innovation

We have "ereader" devices and software... we have "epublishing" tools... but we could always use better and more innovative tools. Right now there is undoubtedly someone out there building an insanely awesome reader that will just blow our minds. Or figuring out a way to make ebooks more accessible to people who can't read... maybe converting them to audio in new ways. Or figuring out a way to translate books into other languages on the fly....

Maybe someone's coming up with a reader that will let you display the contents of an ebook inside a pair of glasses so that you could just be sitting there on a train reading a book with just your glasses on.

The inventors and entrepreneurs of the world can be out there doing all this... but then the moment they want to make these products publicly available and working with all ebooks... BOOM... they run into the issue that they have to deal with DRM on ebooks!

That means licensing someone's DRM-reading software.

Which means big bucks...

... and probably kills any type of business model they may have.

Goodbye insanely amazing reader... it will linger on the side as something that can work with DRM-free content like Project Gutenberg books, O'Reilly books... and those from a few other publishers who have gone DRM-free.

Why stifle the innovation?

Why not make it so that the inventors out there can do anything with ebooks? Why not get rid of the DRM so that they can figure out new and amazing things to do with ebooks?


5. DRM Will Ultimately Impact Sales

People are buying zillions of ebooks right now. More from some publishers than print books. It's a new space... everyone's excited... everyone's doing it. It's incredibly convenient.

Sooner or later, though, readers are going to figure out that they are getting royally screwed.

They will figure out that they don't "own" their DRM'd books. That they have effectively leased them. That they can't use them on other computers or ereaders.

They will be pissed off, angry.

And they may stop buying... or at least changing their buying habits.

Why set readers up for failure? Why?

Why not make it so that they can keep buying and buying and buying?

I know that I personally would buy far more ebooks if I knew I could "own" the ebook. I believe that ultimately more people will be in this mindset.

(DRM proponents, of course, believe that all people are sheep and will just continue to buy through locked-down DRM'd platforms because of the convenience. Sadly, they may be right.)

6. DRM Halts The Spread Of Ideas

Finally, DRM stops the spread of ideas and information. With DRM-free books, they can spread to people who would not have - or could not have - paid for the book in the first place. There are people in impoverished areas who cannot afford ebooks. There are people in countries where ebooks are not available through the major distribution channels. [UPDATE: There are people who would like to borrow an ebook from their library but are unable to do so in some cases because DRM makes it difficult.]

This is admittedly where it gets a bit tricky.

In my case, the kinds of books I have written so far are informational and for more niche technical audiences. I don't expect to ever get rich from them. I don't expect to pay my mortgage, send my kids to college, or anything like that. I might get a few nice dinners out of the proceeds or maybe buy a new computer... but that's about it. I'm realistic because there are only so many people out there who really care about things like IPv6 or VoIP security.

I write to help people understand topics. I write to contribute to the discussions going on. I write to help people learn.

So if someone really couldn't afford to buy my ebooks, can't get them in their region because of distribution issues, or can't borrow my ebook from their library, I'm personally okay if they wind up getting the book somehow. For me getting the ideas out there is most important.

I realize that some authors (and more importantly publishers) may be entirely profit-focused and want to squeeze every single penny out that they can... and so they have a different view.

The point, though, is that DRM prohibits these ideas from spreading where they wouldn't have gone.

In the end...

I guess I go back to my comments at the beginning - I believe that most people are NOT thieves... and if they have the opportunity to purchase an ebook in the channel of their choice for the ereader of their choice at a reasonable cost, they will do so.

I believe DRM is not the answer and that there are other ways and means to pursue those who violate intellectual property rights and copyrights. I don't want a world in which we are locked into specific ereader platforms.

I want readers to be able to purchase - and own - my books. And as a reader, I want that kind of trust relationship with authors and publishers.

So on this day, I encourage you to think about how DRM creates a defective and negative experience for readers... and to:

  • Buy DRM-free ebooks where you can. (Update: Here's a list.)

  • Ask publishers and authors if you can get their ebooks DRM-free.

  • Think seriously about the choice of ereader you are using and what the long-term impacts will be.

  • If you are an author, ask your publisher if you can make your ebooks DRM-free... or consider another publisher... or consider self-publishing without DRM.

  • Raise this topic with others, so that they can be aware of the choices they are making when they use ereaders and purchase ebooks.

The future of ebooks is in OUR hands, as readers, authors and publishers. Let's make it a good one!

UPDATE #1: In the comment thread on Hacker News for this post, user spatten pointed out this list of dealers and publishers with DRM-free ebooks. (By the way, that Hacker News comment thread does make for interesting reading.)

UPDATE #2: Two other excellent posts on the topic have come out yesterday and today:

I particularly liked this line of Mike's post: "Obscurity is more of an enemy than piracy." Tim O'Reilly expanded on this point way back in 2006.

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either:

How Will The Internet Evolve? An audio recording of a recent panel offers chilling ideas...

IsocHow will the Internet evolve over the years ahead?

What are the most pressing challenges for the evolution of the Internet?

That was the topic of a recent panel discussion sponsored by the Internet Society held at a recent Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) meeting in Quebec City in July 2011. Being a strong advocate for an open Internet, I found myself listening to the audio recording on a recent car trip... and admittedly found myself rather concerned by the challenges outlined by the panel participants.

With the Internet no longer being simply the "research network" it once was and now being "critical infrastructure", it's a vastly different world with both commercial and government interests wanting to control the network. What are the competing interests? Where is it all going? What may we lose in the evolution?

The session lasted for about 45 minutes and is definitely worth a listen if you are interested in where this critical network known as the Internet is heading...

P.S. Slides are also available, but they are just a few slides served to frame the discussion - the meat of the subject is all in the audio recording.

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either:

John Battelle On The Importance of Aggregating The Digital Content We Post In Walled Gardens

The Internet Is Open
As we spread our digital content across the Internet, through separate services that we do NOT control, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Quora, how do we aggregate all that information somewhere where we DO control the content? So as to preserve our "identity" formed by that collective work?

That is at the heart of John Battelle's great piece yesterday, "We Need An Identity Re-Aggregator (That We Control). I've written at some length over the years about the re-emergence of online "walled gardens" and the need for us to maintain our own identity on the web. I've also spoken about this on any number of FIR reports I've submitted... and to me John really nails it with this paragraph:

The downsides of not owning your own words, on your own platform, are not limited simply to money. Over time, the words and opinions one leaves all over the web form a web of identity - your identity - and controlling that identity feels, to me, a human right. But unless you are a sophisticated netizen, you're never going to spend the time and effort required to gather all your utterances in one place, in a fashion that best reflects who you are in the world.

As he notes further on in the piece, even if you link to your contributions on one of those services, should that service disappear all your content is lost.

Over the past few months, I've been trying to change my behavior a bit and revert my own writing to how it used to be. I'm trying to post messages on my own blogs FIRST and then linking to it from the other services.

Even this post... I could have left it as a comment on John's blog, or as a reply inside of Facebook or Google+... but instead I am posting it here it is on a platform that I control.

It's hard... the various services make it seductively convenient just to have all your interaction within the walls of that service. And I certainly do have some level of conversation within those walls. But for longer content - or commentary that I want to preserve, even in the form of links to other sites with some comment, I'm trying to do more of that from my own sites. Kind of like how "blogging" was back about 5+ years ago before we got all caught up in these new shiny services that we all enjoy so much.

Meanwhile, I, too, would love to have a "meta service" along the lines of what John suggests...

Image credit: jeremybrooks on Flickr

If you found this post interesting or useful, please consider either:

Why The "Nym Wars" Matter - Preserving Pseudonymity On An Open Internet

Identity (Clone trooper Tales #44)

There's an identity war going on out on the Internet right now... there are multiple aspects to it... but the key is that:

it is a battle for control of YOUR identity!

Think of any website you've visited lately that has offered you the ability to "Login with Facebook" or "Sign in with Twitter".

It's simple. Easy. Convenient.

And dangerous.

Because in embracing the convenience of such services (and I am certainly guilty of this myself), we surrender control of our identity to the identity provider.

But that is a broader topic for a much longer piece I want to write...

Right now I want to touch on the point:

What if the "identity provider" won't let you use what you consider your "real" identity?

What if the identity provider requires you to use your "birth name" (or "real name") instead of the name that everyone knows you as?

Welcome to the world of pseudonyms... persistent identities used by people instead of the names they were given at birth.

Pseudonyms have been with us for eons... as noted above, authors and entertainers have long used them. In fact, a pseudonym was involved with the founding of the United States.

And this pseudonymity is exactly what is at stake in what is being tagged as the "#nymwars" on Twitter.

This latest battle in the much larger war really began back on July 22nd, when Kirrily Robert, a developer (and former co-worker of mine) who has gone by the pseudonym "Skud" for many years, was suspended from Google+ for not using her real name and took to her blog to publicize this fact. There have been literally hundreds (and maybe thousands) of articles on the topic posted between then and now... with the most recent wave being about Google CEO Eric Schmidt's comments that Google wants you to use your real name because they want to be an identity provider... and do things with that "real identity" of yours.

This battle isn't just about Google+, though. Facebook would also like you to only use your "real name" and to have you assert only your "real" identity.

I could go on at great length about why this is a bad idea, but would instead point you to this excellent but lengthy piece:

Read it... and then go back and read it again. A powerful piece laying out so many of the reasons why pseudonymity is important.

And a key point is:

Pseudonymity is NOT anonymity.

There is an entirely separate discussion to be had around true anonymity... and the value therein - or not.

But that is entirely different from the idea of a persistent identity that one uses as a replacement for one's "real name".

Should we not have the right to use the name that people know us by on these services?

The response, of course, is that using these services is optional and you can, of course, choose NOT to participate in Google+... or Facebook... or whatever other service requires you to use your "real name".

And obviously that is an option.

But what if many of the conversations I want to participate in have moved to one of those services? What if all my friends are sharing photos using some new service... and I can't because I'm forced to use a different identity than what I want to use?

What if I am an author or entertainer and want to engage on that service with my fans through the persona I use?

What if that service is the only way to communicate out of my country or region and using my real name may get me killed?

Pseudonymity matters.

Control over our identity matters.

The ability to control the identity we choose to use on services on the Internet matters.

The war for our identity will continue to rage... will the victor be the organizations who control the services we want to use? or will we retain the right to control our identity?

Your choice...

Other good articles worth reading:

Image credit: koisny on Flickr

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Walled Garden Deja Vu: Facebook Provides "facebook.com" Email Addresses

Over the weekend, I had a severe case of deja vu... and found myself humming that song from Styx that includes the line "Haven't we been here before...".


Because Facebook followed through on its earlier statement around letting people receive email to a "facebook.com" email address:

Facebook email

So yes, indeed, because clearly I need more email addresses, you can now send me email to:

[email protected]

[On a side note, I will be very curious to see what kind of anti-spam measures Facebook puts in place as these addresses get out there. Consider this my little test... putting that email address out here on a public blog site where it can be easily scraped.]

The deja vu part is that ... we've been here before. Remember AOL? CompuServer? Prodigy? Delphi? MCI Mail? GENIE?

Remember all those "walled gardens" of the original "computer information services"?

And remember those glorious days when you could FINALLY get an email address so that you could send and receive to people outside the walls of whatever service you used? (Even if those addresses were sometimes hard to write or remember? ex. CompuServe's numerical addresses.)

While I realize that some % of readers of this post in 2011 were probably not born in the heydey of those services, for those of us who were around those were big days when we finally got those email addresses.

Soon everyone had an open Internet email address... the walls came down... and communication happened across all services.

Over time, though, the walls started coming back up. I wrote about this four years ago in a May 2007 post, "Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the Return of the Walled Gardens of E-Mail" and drew my view of the evolution of email:


[Another side note: Notice how things change in 4 years and some of the services I mentioned on the right that are no longer around or relevant...]

And so now we Facebook giving us a way to receive email messages. We've had the ability to send email messages out of Facebook for some time now, but it was sent from cryptic, ugly addresses that changed. Now we have a "regular" email address... and indeed an outbound message from Facebook to my "[email protected]" address looks fine in my regular email client:


Note, of course, that since Facebook does not let you set a "Subject" line on an outbound message you create, the subject is simply "Conversation with Dan York".

When a message is initially received from the outside, the subject line of that email is preserved, as you can see here:


The "Hidden Text" in this case was my normal Voxeo email signature.

All in all it works quite well. I'm not naive enough to think that this is some great idea by Facebook to open up to the outside world... the simple fact is that they want to keep you inside of Facebook where you interact with people on Facebook... and, oh, yes, view all the advertising.

If Facebook can convince you to use the site as your email portal, instead of, oh, GMail, then Facebook and their advertisers win against Google and its advertisers.

Of course, Facebook still has its incredibly onerous Terms of Service that basically says all your email - and any other content - belong to Facebook... so I don't see me personally using my "[email protected]" email account all that often outside of the regular FB messaging I'll be doing there.

Still, all cynicism and deja vu aside, as an advocate for the open Internet I am pleased to see this move by Facebook. Some people have made Facebook their portal of choice... and this now lets people choose other sites as their portals of choice, yet still communicate with Facebook users.

In the end, this openness - and ability for us to control our choice of communication - is exactly what we need.

Have you "claimed" your Facebook email address yet? Will you use it?

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The Facebook/Burson-Marsteller Debacle, Google - and the World War For (Our) Information

“There’s a war out there, old friend. A world war. And it’s not about who’s got the most bullets. It’s about who controls the information. What we see and hear, how we work, what we think… it’s all about the information!”
- Cosmo in “Sneakers” (1992)

I could only reflect on this quote as the news exploded last week that Facebook had hired PR firm Burson-Marsteller to spread negative stories about Google, and then continued in almost Keystone Kops-fashion with both Facebook and B-M competing to see who could throw the other under the bus the fastest... complete with silly aspects like Burson-Marsteller deleting posts from their Facebook page (they have stopped doing that, as is obvious from their page now).

In the midst of all this there was the predictable outrage from so many in the PR / communications industry, with statements about clear violations of ethics and so much more. Neville Hobson provides a solid summary over on his blog along with some recommendations for B-M.

My only real thought through it all was...

is anyone REALLY surprised?

If anything, my surprise was only that the Burson-Marsteller employees were amateur enough that they got caught!

The War

The reality is that the quote that Ben Kingsley's character Cosmo said to his friend Martin (Robert Redford) almost 20 years ago is if anything only MORE true today.

There's a war out there.

A war for our eyeballs.

A war for our attention.

A war for our dollars.

... and we're not talking petty cash... we're talking billions of dollars.. maybe trillions.

Take a look at what you do every day. Take a look at the tools you use. Where's your email? Where's your blog hosted? Where do post status updates and connect with friends? Where do you post your photos? What do you use to write documents? What do you use to find your way from one place to another?

Odds are that for almost all of you reading this, the answer is...

the Cloud.


Somewhere... on someone's servers... on someone's service.

Even for documents... Google Apps, now Microsoft's Office 365, and more and more and more...

We are evolving into the Cloud.

And therein lies the war.

The war is about who controls the information... it's about "what we see and hear, how we work, what we think".

It's about who actually runs the "cloud"... who controls the servers where the data actually resides. It's about who owns the plumbing down underneath.

It's also about who controls how we access the "cloud"... who controls the tools we use... the interfaces we use... the services we use... even the bandwidth we use...

It's a world war...

It's THE war that will define our future... and whether that future will be in the hands of closed, proprietary "walled gardens" controlled by a few corporations - or whether we will have a more open Internet where we all have more choice and control.

Oh, yes, and it's a war for BILLIONS of dollars...

In That Context...

The other reality is that this Burson-Marsteller "kerfuffle" between Facebook and Google is only a minor skirmish in the larger war.

The battles are playing out all around us... online with Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Twitter, Microsoft and everyone else who would like to be in that game... in the mobile sphere with Apple, Google (Android), Microsoft and everyone else... in the underlying plumbing with the telco/mobile carriers (AT&T, Verizon, a zillion others), the cable providers (Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, a zillion others), the other ISPs, the other wireless providers, Google, and everyone else...

... and in so many other facets of our lives. Pick an area... and there's a battle going on as part of this larger war.

In that context, the fact that Facebook engaged a company like Burson-Marsteller to spread rumors and stir up negative publicity against an opponent is not at all surprising.

For many engaged in this war, they live by a simple premise:

The ends justify the means.

And with that world-view, such quaint views as "ethics" don't matter. All that matters is...


By any means.

Was what Burson-Marsteller and Facebook did sleazy and unethical by the standards most of us hold?


Will Burson-Marsteller's actions once again hurt those of us who take pride in the PR / communications industry and would like it to be viewed more positively?


Will those of us who do abide by a code of ethics in our PR / communications efforts once again have to endure having our reputation tarnished by those who don't?


Will will see more of these kind of sleazy actions, perhaps not from Burson-Marsteller but from other firms?


... but odds are that others will look to cover their tracks more and not get caught.

There's a war out there, my friends, a world war...

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