Every freedom loving individual on the planet ought to be concerned about how the web is evolving. Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, put it like this:
The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles… The web as we know it, however, is being threatened in different ways. Some of its most successful inhabitants have begun to chip away at its principles… The more you enter, the more you become locked in. Your social networking site becomes a central platform – a closed silo of content, and one that does not give you full control over your information in it.
If we lock ourselves into the model of centralized data control, we risk succumbing to a tyranny of unprecedented scale. A tyranny of information.
A recent upstart, Diaspora, struck a chord worldwide with its promise to deliver a "privacy aware, personally controlled, do-it-all, open source social network." It quickly raised an unprecedented $200,000 in Kickstarter crowdfunding, attracted droves of geeks to lend their able minds, and peaked the interest of mainstream media. The message was clear: we don't want a social monopoly.
I applaud Diaspora for planting the seeds of social systems reform. The world is now more aware of the arbitrary tradeoff of social data for social tools. People have begun opening their minds to the possibility of alternatives. That is no small feat.
Unfortunately, data privacy and control are tiresome concepts for the average social networking user. Many don't understand the risks and many who do simply don't care. It's not like they're paying to use the service, why should they complain? Better protections of privacy and more control of data are not compelling enough reasons to persuade 800 million people to adopt something else.
So what is? Tim Berners-Lee offered a hint:
The web evolved into a powerful, ubiquitous tool because it was built on egalitarian principles…
The web is a decentralized system. A common set of open protocols and standards enables anyone to participate by publishing content and interlinking it with other content. It therefore evolves through the contributions of millions of people worldwide.
If our social systems were a set of similarly open protocols and standards, a new era of global innovation around how we store and consume social data would be born.
What if a developer could dream up a new social interface, build it, publish it, and immediately allow anyone to use it? Imagine watching a dynamic visualization of your friends' social activity as it relates to the latest internet meme.
What if users didn't have to forfeit their data to the company that built the latest social interface? Imagine clicking a link and immediately seeing your social data appear in some new way without popup boxes asking you to let company x access your data.
What if users could put their data on a variety of data storage providers who competed on services and prices? Imagine DropBox + Social Data.
New companies would be founded, new jobs would be created, and users would bask in the ever expanding array of services and tools that strive to help us make the most of OUR social data.
If that doesn't compel users to rethink social, nothing will.