Should we worry about Web 2.0 takeovers?

The IDC mailing list recently carried a flurry of exchanges critiquing the corporate takeovers and mergers of web 2.0 platforms, with particular worries about what would happen with personal and private data.

I’ve always thought that web 2.0 represents a social contract that says: “let us share and collaborate, and in turn, we accept that our attention is aggregated so that the platform can be funded, BUT, do not restrict sharing or we will go elsewhere”. Most of the contributions however take the different tack of attacking the corporatization of Web 2.0

One of the contributions however, by , does express quite eloquently what I mean above with the implicit social contract, so I asked to reproduce it here.

Peter Bihr from

Some of you have expressed concerns about the Big Players buying up the small upstarts like Feedburner. I understand those concerns. However, I don’t agree. Let me try to briefly outline why:

First of all, the Feedburner guys (or any of the others) wouldn’t sell their company if they wouldn’t want to – it’s not like there’s been a hostile takeover, or is it? It was intended by the founders, and as far as I remember they never claimed that their goal was to stay independent. (I might be wrong here, but that’s the way I remember it.)

Second, if this gives those creative minds the funds to start something new and cool, then I’m more than happy to let Google buy the old company: Resources for those who create new ideas, companies, services and tools are much more valuable in the long term than any company could ever be by itself, because it’s the foundation for future innovation. (Of course that’s not the issues you pointed out before. I’ll get to that in a sec, please bear with me 🙂

Third, while Feedburner data is valuable, I don’t think it’s overly so: What’s valuable here it the pure reach, plus the data analysis tools, to sell adspace in feeds. While I agree this might be annoying, it’s part of the deal: Free tools are mostly not really free, but just free of immediate payments – we mostly pay through ad consumption. (Open source software, of course, is to a large degree the exception to that rule. So if there is any real alternative to Feedburner on an open source basis, please post it here. However, since the traffic has to be paid, I can’t
really imagine how there could be one.) Additionally, as long as my data at Feedburner is used by Feedburner/Google, I wouldn’t mind as long as the use adheres to some privacy standards, i.e. as long as this data is
aggregated and anonymous: Why not allow for use by the service that makes me as a user happy? Think synergy. Question: Would a buy-out option be a viable solution for you? For example a paid service that gives you back full control over your data while still enjoying the same service?

Four, in the particular case of Google I have to say that I _do_ understand the scare of monopolized power and information. However, so far I even trust Google with my email, which of course is much, much more valuable than feed data. For two simple reasons: I don’t think Google is more evil than your average small email provider, plus Gmail covers my need like no other service out there. Just a matter of personal choice, of course, but as long as I trust anyone with my email, not trusting them with other stuff would be hypocrisy on my behalf.

Five, and this is a central point in the whole web 2.0 world, I’d say: Most of us allow the use (aggregation etc.) of our data quite freely. CC licences give us the means to retain control of our content and much of our data. But most of us don’t enforce it: I can’t really tell how many services out there use the CC-licenced feeds in your blogs or mine which are for non-commercial use only, and use them to fuel their businesses through aggregation services and the like. Do we cease-and-desist them, sue them, or even just write them an email? So far, I haven’t, and I’d guess it’s similar for many of you: Because honestly, many users simply profit from the extra exposure. (Keep in mind Tim O’Reilly’s old quote: “A musicians biggest enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity.” In that sense,
many of us profit from the extra reach of our content, primarily insocial returns like reputation, credibility and the like.)

I’ve exaggerated a little here and there to make my points clear, but you’ve noticed that anyway. There is one point, though, that was brought up that I definitively agree with and can’t stress enough: The importance of clean, smooth exit options in whatever service we commit to. From a business point of view, lock-in is good, as it keeps the customers in. However, this is a very oldschool business model, and a bad one. If we can only get our data in, but not out again, we’re stuck.

I’d go so far as to say that wherever that’s the case, you can be sure that the service you’re signing up for has something or another to hide. Maybe a standard, or badge, or commitment to some kind of standard body
could be a way to go here, so that companies could adopt a standard of easy-in, easy-out as a sign of good quality and trust. We’d all know what we’re in for.

1 Comment Should we worry about Web 2.0 takeovers?

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