When Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web his vision was of a platform that was open to all. One that would allow everyone using it to communicate without restriction and build wonderful applications upon it.
And that’s exactly what happened.
Early adopters of the web always resisted commerciality, with the believe that what was posted online should have no commercial intent and be truly free. Even the early bloggers wouldn’t think of running ads, writing sponsored posts or including affiliate links.
In fact some of the earliest commercial bloggers, such as Darren Rowse of Problogger, were despised by their fellow bloggers for going commercial.
In the end it just makes sense that to continually provide a service, or quality content, requires someone to pay for it. The paywall method has never worked well online therefore it’s no surprise that ad supported content and platforms evolved.
What Exactly Is A Utility?
The issue comes when a service is so popular, and is relied on by so many people, that even though it is run by a private company it is seen as a utility by many. The Internet has become just that and many governments around the world are working to ensure that as many people as possible, within their countries, have access to the web and the benefits it provides.
And What Of Social Media?
Still relatively young in it’s development social media, and Twitter especially, is a force to be reckoned with in that it enables a style of communication so powerful it can topple regimes. As was experienced in the Arab Spring uprisings and more recently a cyberwar is being played out by both sides in the Syrian Crisis.
Facebook has always been controlling over access to it’s content and data, but recent news from Twitter about the restrictions it is imposing on 3rd party developers utilising it’s API could see some of these real world benefits wane in the future.
Twitter is fighting for control of it’s revenue stream and external applications leveraging it’s content are not necessarily helping.
Is Twitter A Utility?
Should Twitter be treated like like a privatised power company, run for profit but overseen by an independent regulator? It seems very extreme to think in these terms, but Twitter’s platform is quite unique. Accessible on even the most basic of mobile devices, yet the source of an enormous volume of rich user data and sentiment mined by companies and governments alike.
App.net Enter Stage Left
Dalton Caldwell certainly thinks a platform such as Twitter should be available for everyone to build upon and leverage. He’s not shy of commerciality though his solution to the issue, App.net, is a pay to use platform built on the Twitter concept, but one that allows developers freedom to leverage the platform for their own purposes.
A service such as Twitter takes a serious amount of resource, and money, to run. Dalton isn’t concerned that Twitter wants to use advertising to cover it’s costs and make a profit. What does concern him is that this model requires users to see the advertising and as a byproduct leads to developers being restricted in how they can present information so as not to damage Twitters revenue stream. Other activity on the stream becomes less important, other than for PR purposes as in the case of the Arab Spring.
The Real Solution
Competition is the key of course. Whilst platforms such as Twitter and Facebook dominate their sectors there is little reason for them to think about 3rd party developers. Users are their product, and advertisers their customers, as long as these two groups remain happy they will continue to move in the direction they please.
With competitors on the horizon even the largest of companies are kept on their toes and are required to adapt and be flexible just to survive. Microsoft, Apple and Google are great examples of massive companies that have dominated markets, but due to fierce competition become self-regulated in an attempt to maintain their dominance.
Hopefully more forward thinking entrepreneurs such as Dalton will surface in the not too distant future, ensuring that we all continue to benefit from social media, one of the most unique developments in communication since the invention of the telephone.