When 300 Million Active Users Isn't Enough | Library Babel Fish

Interesting reflections from librarian Barbara Fister on Twitter’s precarious position, turning a ‘mere’ $191m profit on 300m users and not growing fast enough to assure survival. Turning away from the customer-as-product model, she instead makes a case for small, vertical market, paid-for social (but not too social) services, like Pinboard (tagline: ‘social bookmarking for introverts’) and LibraryThing (“MySpace for bookworms”).

I don’t see these as any more viable than Twitter. If successful, they will be purchased by one of the big few (giving the predator access to my data and social connections) or, if unsuccessful, they will eat my data and my social connections made with them. If they weather all that, the chances of them continuing to grow to meet my ever changing demands are minimal. Vanishingly few will continue to meet my needs for the foreseeable future and it would be foolhardy to bet money that any will survive indefinitely.

And indefinite survival is what is needed, not of the service itself but of the data, processes and social connections that support those data. It is bad enough having elderly files on my own computer that I cannot access at all thanks to proprietary formats. Having such data on a cloud service I may not even be able to access next week is much worse. And, of course, for a social system it is not just about my data but about the network with other people that, when the service dies or I wish to leave it, will be lost.  It’s better to be more of a customer and less of a product, but the endgame is the same either way. Cloud services are susceptible to a thousand and one woes, including unwanted service changes, renogatiated service contracts (seldom beneficial to the customer, once the data are locked in), acquisition, disappearance, failure to grow when needed, and a host of other things beyond my control. The proprietary, locked-in cloud is not the way to go, whether ‘free’ or directly paid-for. It gives the illusion of being open while actually being closed. We need open, portable, distributable and distributed standards for all of this: RSS, OPML, OpenSocial, trackbacks, pingbacks, WebMention and so on. And we need the ability to create, change, move and develop virtual spaces that belong to us, not to a service provider. This is why systems like Known, Elgg and WordPress (with appropriate plugins to support federation) are so important. I find it very encouraging that WordPress (open source and hosted versions) continues to grow and to dominate the social media landscape, powering over 26% of the entire Web. It makes usage of the likes of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube seem like a rounding error, and it is just one of many social systems owned by those that use them.

Address of the bookmark: https://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/library-babel-fish/when-300-million-active-users-isnt-enough

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology and teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems, of which I am the Chair. I am married, with two grown-up children, and live in beautiful Vancouver.

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