Internet

If Content is King, Platform is Galactic Emperor

As Facebook and others amass power, open standards and free flow of content play second fiddle.

Do you remember RSS? Ten-fifteen years ago, the web was all about open standards. Yes, we’d had the browser wars as an early sign of big players showing muscle, but essentially the Internet was about content. ICANN and W3C set the rules, and we followed, because that was our ticket to ride on the World Wide Web.

With the rise of Web 2.0 in the mid-00’s, new services allowed us to easily publish, share, and aggregate. Blogging was the medium of choice, and the glue holding everything together was RSS.

The big power-shift

This made sense in a world where content owners were still in power: legacy media outlets were happy to embrace RSS, since a universal syndication protocol made it easy for readers to access their content. And for those of us with blogs, it was the way to get our messages out there, alongside the New York Times, or whoever people had decided to follow.

Today’s media landscape is different, however. The days are long gone when I would check Google Reader constantly, second only to email. Social media, and Facebook in particular, have become the content hub of choice, and this is where we get our daily (or hourly) feed of what’s new.

All hail the profit

But another thing happened. Ads.

As Facebook and Google grew, the had to develop business models that made them profitable. And in order to display ads effectively, they have to keep users in their own universe as long as possible.

This may be the real reason Google Reader was discontinued. It is certainly why original content posted on Facebook or LinkedIn (case in point) is featured more prominently than links to stuff hosted elsewhere.

It is also the ultimate thinking behind Facebook’s recent decision to discontinue support for third-party tools to share posts automatically to Facebook Profiles.

Big is Bigger

They do this because they can. In 2018, the platform owners are in power, and anyone producing content operates at their mercy.

You see the same thing playing out with Netflix or Booking.com; distributors who have grown so big that they now set the rules.

For anyone who had illusions that the Internet would make the world a more free, open, and democratic place, this is punch in the gut. The tides may turn again, but for now we’ll have to play along.

This means posting your content across platforms, creating separate versions for each. And you’ll do this manually, for even though there used to be open standards that could help your content flow, the giants have effectively killed that dream.

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