November 18, 2009
O’Riley Radar: The War For The Web
Source: O’Riley Radar
A chain of broken links. Tim O’Riley tried to post a link from URL shortening service bit.ly that lead to a NASA article. Normally, Facebook would turn the plain-text link into a clickable URL, but on this occasion, it wasn’t happening (screencap). It turns out Tim wasn’t the only one with the problem. From Mashable:
if you’re posting web links (Bit.ly, TinyURL) to your Twitter feed and using the Twitter Facebook app to share those updates on Facebook too, none of those links are hyperlinked. Your friends will need to copy and paste the links into a browser to make them work.
If this is a design decision on Facebook’s part, it’s an extremely odd one: we’d like to think it’s an inconvenient bug, and we have a mail in to Facebook to check. Suffice to say, the issue is site-wide: it’s not just you.
That’s not a bug, that’s… OK, it’s a bug. Facebook quickly corrected the problem early Saturday. Apparently the snafu was Facebook’s latest effort to “protect” users from the wild west of the Internet. Facebook had the right idea, though…
I can tell you, from personal experience, that while the URL shortening makes tweeting links easier to fit into its limited text length, it is dangerous to end users since it effectively hides malicious sites that would normally be filtered or blocked. Here’s an article from Wired about the abuse of shortening services to deliver malware through Twitter. I clicked on a shortened link in Reddit expecting to read an article on robotic fish-eye-lens cameras… only to be greeted with a screen full off meatspin. That which once seen…
The Facebook link problem has been solved for now, but for Tim, it has given him some cause for alarm.
Beyond Facebook. Tim O’Riley is involved with the making of Web 2.0, and has expressed a desire to make it more open(-source). Already he sees problems arising from the likes of Apple’s iPhone:
The Apple iPhone is the hottest web access device around, and like Facebook, while it connects to the web, it plays by a different set of rules. Anyone can put up a website, or launch a new Windows or Mac OS X or Linux application, without anyone’s permission. But put an app onto the iPhone? That requires Apple’s blessing.
There is one glaring loophole: anyone can create a web application, which any user can save as clickable application on their phone. But these web applications have limits - there are key capabilities of the phone that are not accessible to web applications. HTML 5 can introduce all the new application-like features it wants, but they will work only for web applications, and can’t access key aspects of the phone with Apple’s permission. And as we saw earlier this year with Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application, Apple isn’t shy about blocking applications that it considers threatening to their core business, or that of their partners.
And there’s Rupert Murdoch’s threats to block Google from indexing NewsCorp sites because he want people to pay for access to the news instead of getting it free from Google and Twitter.
Tim is concerned about the net becoming monopolized and homogenized through attrition; Survival of the fittest corporation gets control of the Internet… and all the data on it. He gives the recent introduction of Google’s Android phones and their competition with Apple iPhones as an example of what’s to come, because it’s also a sign just how competitive the web is getting, and just how powerful Google is getting, because they understand that “data is the Intel Inside” of the next generation of computer applications.
A call to arms. Tim wants to stop the corporate wars for the Internet in its tracks before they can even start with a plea to developers:
It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.
And it’s time for developers to take a stand. If you don’t want a repeat of the PC era, place your bets now on open systems. Don’t wait till it’s too late.