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This picture totally proves that +Tom Coates is totally wrong (I still <3 you, Tom!) about social networks. Note especially the number of views on the photo. There is only one view after one week. On a photo of me making spaghetti with my hands. Compare that with this photo that was posted to Plus yesterday.

Flickr hasn't suddenly become worse at hosting photos. My friends haven't suddenly become disinterested in food. Nope, it's just that Flickr has become a ghost town. People (like me) still post photos there, but no-one is watching.

Fixing the front page, as +timoni west put it very well ( might have a great effect. I doubt it, though. As someone who posts photos, I care more that my photos go to where my friends are looking at photos than I do how my friends are looking at photos. Of course, I want the sociality to come back to where I post my photos.

I don't want to post a photo to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Plus, and everywhere else that my friends are looking at photos, and then have to manage a fragmented conversation.

Plus is great, and it moves the conversation around design and the social dynamics of online interaction forward an incredible amount. It also underscores the extent to which the systems we've created are totally broken.

tl;dr: Either we were all suffering a massive shared delusion and Flickr actually sucks, or something is really broken with the way that we've structured online social interaction. Evidence: I've had only one view on a photo of making spaghetti with my hands in a week on Flickr. A photo of an ice lolly has 26 comments and 15 likes after one day on Plus.
Blaine Cook's profile photoEvan Prodromou's profile photoTantek Çelik's profile photoelisa reyes's profile photo
To be fair though, the other photo was a rocket!
It's true, space does have a mysterious allure, especially when it's delicious!
Oh, and your nails aren't as colourful.
That can be fixed. Would it be unscientific if I took another photo of spaghetti making with hot pink nails?
I think it would be fair to say that there's going to be an initial peak of activity on here, just because it's new and shiny and people want to try out all the features (I know I've been behaving in ways that are more enthusiastic than I might ordinarily - it's only as social as you can be bothered to make it be, right?), so I'm not sure your experience with the rocket lolly (which is *OARsum*) is quite the perfect test just yet as to whether this is the turning point.

I don't think flickr is broken. I think a lot of people moved their photo lives, at least sharing those drunkard nights out after a conference type photos, over to facebook and we never saw them again on flickr - and if that is the case, then flickr serves a different purpose and might be better curated for it (conjecture, of course). I know, particularly with my non-nerd friends, that they simple can't be bothered to maintain multiple photo locations and interactions (and neither can I, but I'm more willing than they are for a better experience for particular media) - so they stay in facebook (which sucks for me, because I choose not to have a facebook account). They look at my stuff if I send them a set via email once in a while, because I think they'll be interested, but for the most part, flickr is there for my own collection less than for sharing with everyone. I get decent traffic to a photo if I happen to tweet about it though, so I use that if I think it's interesting to other folk/punctuating something going on in my life.

I kinda hope flickr doesn't die. I feel invested in it - I'd want to export everything, including comments and all that and plug it in somewhere new if I had to give it up. I like how it looks. I like the soft connection community (i.e. it doesn't feel nagging or a burden). On the other hand, if G+ turns out to be the place all of us use for our photos, I guess I won't complain about that either.
I used to use Flickr quite a bit, but have since stopped because the social component of Flickr is very much swamped with award invites and other noise. I can see the value if your social graph happens to exist mostly on Flickr, or if you have a portfolio of sorts that you're maintaining, or if you simply like to browse other peoples' photos. I really liked Tumblr for a while for posting photos, but I'm really hoping my network materializes on G+ so that I can simply use one service mostly.
+Frances Berriman I agree on all points – rocket lollies are awesome, and Pus is the new shiny, so it's expected that it gets more attention. I suppose my worry is that we're not heading to a single social destination ala Facebook-world-domination (though that brings its own concerns). Instead, we're heading towards more fragmentation, and that our social experience will become more dependent on which online network we choose than they are on communities we interact with in real life.

For communities like Barbelith, this makes total sense. Intentional online communities, organised around subjects, or even the community itself, deserve to be free-standing and self-organising.

For more general activities like photo sharing, the community isn't (in general) the one that should decide the context; instead, as Plus has elegantly underscored, it's much more humane for me to post a photo to a given group of potential observers that I've defined than to define the group of potential observers by which photo sharing service they use.
My buddy Steve who is a fellow OG flickr user just had a kid and the handful of excellent pics he posted of his momentous day have garnered barely a dozen views where once he could post a cup of coffee and expect a hundred views before the day was up. Sad. A ghost town for sure.
Yup - I view flickr pics from my feed reader; I saw Steve's photos, but didn't comment because I don't really ever comment from my feed reader. The friction is way too high. (Now off to give belated congrats. ;-) )
Nnngh. You're completely missing the point of what I think about this whole Federated thing. No one denies that having ones photos in a place where people no longer go is a bad thing. I'm not sure anyone denies that if someone could find a good way to do federated stuff that it wouldn't be better for users. My contention in the past, as now, is (1) that it's bloody bloody ridiculously difficult to find a way to do federated social networks that normal human beings understand - so difficult in fact, that I'm pretty confident that we won't see any federated social network gain any traction in the near future and (2) it's not obviously in the best interest of any company to BUILD a federated social network, and if they do find a way to do it, it's non-obvious that they'll make enough money out of it to sustain development and grow rapidly enough to compete with any proprietary, non-federated one.

I have absolutely ZERO problem with people talking about how nice it would be if Federated Social Networks existed, I just think they're so unlikely to work that we should invest our energy in other areas! More productive areas! In this case, I'm afraid, i think you're just running at a brick wall while declaring that it would CLEARLY BE BETTER IF THE BRICK WALL WASN'T THERE. Well duh! Of course it would be better if the brick wall wasn't there. No one's disputing that! But it is there! It really is!

We had this conversation in person three years ago at Brickhouse and I see nothing to persuade me since that any of these Federated Social Network ideas have made any serious progress in persuading even early adopter users, like the people in this community at the moment, to show even the slightest interest in actually using them! In fact, I've seen the opposite. I've seen people like Simon Willison give up on Open ID as a useful thing that would allow some kind of limited federation and run towards using Twitter Login Auth. I know it's not the same thing, but **COME ON** - wanting something to happen does not mean that it will or even can happen. You're talking about replacing something with gradually emerging business models and some degree of user understanding with something that is almost inherently incomprehensible and no clear way to make any money.


Now clearly, I know that we can point to things like IM and E-mail as examples of places where some form of federated social services have worked. And frankly, if you wanted to build a federated anything at the moment, I'd almost encourage you to build it as a downloadable client app, simply because I think people would understand it a bit more easily if you did. I know that's dumb, but such is the way of things. I just don't think that we're at a stage yet where people can effectively build social services that feel as ubiquitous as IM and E-mail on the web, in a way that people understand.

And now the clincher. IS IT EVEN A GOOD IDEA? Most of the progress I've seen with Open ID has shown that in many cases, very large companies benefit most from some of these standards. Open ID was supposed to let people login to loads of sites, and there were supposed to be hundreds of different ID providers that you'd go to to look after your identity. Well, that was total bullshit, wasn't it. Open ID in its newer forms is primarily used now so that you can login to hundreds of different sites with your Google or Yahoo ID.

I mean, GREAT. Has that really helped distribute power, or has it stuck it all in the hands of the very large cos again?

And in E-mail and stuff like that. Who's actually making money out of it. I'm sure there are a bunch of companies that make a small amount of money out of it, but BASICALLY we're talking Hotmail, Yahoo Mail and GMail squeezing the bulk of the cash out of it. Great! Brilliant! Loads of small players, distributed, open protocol. Woot. Yay for freedom!

And in the meantime, you get standardisation! Which is a good thing if done after the fact, when the thing is really stable and clear. But it also means it's difficult to create new things, to change the standards, to evolve quickly. E-mail has had a bunch of RFCs out over the last few decades, but basically it's pretty much the same as it was forty years ago.

Would it have been better if all social services had agreed to federate in the time of Friendster? Would we have seen any of the competition and technology shifts that have happened since if they had? Or would we basically be watching the whole area stagnate? I don't know the answer to that, but my suspicion is that it would be more of the latter.

Now I know I've over-simplified a bit here, and skipped over some details, but let's me just summarize my core points again:

(1) An ongoing service on the web needs money to sustain it, and thrive
(2) Most users need to understand the benefits of something before they'll use it, or the service has to be fun
(3) Federation in any model at the moment adds complexity and a layer of communication to users for no self-evident, short-term benefit, and it is far far far from fun
(4) The main ostensible benefit - that you get to use the service you want to communicate with everyone - has not been that much of a problem historically. People just move to the service that has better functionality and/or their friends
(4) It is not clear whether any federated model can make enough money for the individuals who run the servers, let alone enough to employ developers to extend and develop a service
(5) It is not clear whether a federated model would be able to compete with proprietary models that get lots of investment and can develop new functionality quickly
(6) It seems likely that any federated model would result in the same large companies owning the major 'clients' for any network, and derive most of the money from it.
(7) It seems likely that standardisation would lock all players into a particular paradigm that they would find it hard to evolve out of or develop.

That's why I can still think it's terrible that no one goes and looks at my photos on Flickr any more without thinking that Federated Social Networks are the bloody answer! Nngh!
I liked the funny little monsters that Willison had for Open ID, so it's a shame that kind of went away.
I mostly agree with what +Tom Coates says, but trying to say it while he's constipated has clearly taken its toll.
+Tom Coates That's a good list, and you did not even dive into the technical issues like: how the hell do we manage Lady Gaga million followers accross thousands of node when we have to rebroadcast 3000 pointless comments ? Of course that we can find gazillion of reasons that Federated Social Networks will fail.

Or we can decide that it is of major importance for our society to have communication platforms that are free of the control of a single corporation, government and culture. So important that we are ready to smash into a brick wall, knowing that at least we have tried.

It would enable an ecosystem with many different user experiences that catters to our needs much better that the one-size-fit-all of the existing players. A system where new entrants can come and innovate quickly, instead of having to figure out how to roll-out the changes accross 700 millions users.

As in term of UX vision, you can have a look at this 2 minutes video. It is onesocialweb, it is real, it works, and the user experience is as smooth as Facebook or Google+ in fact. Federated should not mean complex or difficult, on that one I agree with you.
onesocialweb screencast of web client

And +1 for challenging this community, it is definitively very energizing, now we just want to prove you wrong :-)
+Tom Coates I'm wondering. How do you feel about the comparison with Compuserve/Prodigy/AOL and the web twenty years ago. It seems to me that all your points would have been valid at the time and in favor of keeping the compuserve model. Is there a difference ? Which one ? Thanks !
+Tom Coates I wish I could +100 your post. I trolled a bit (okay, a lot) there, and I'm glad I did – you've spent a lot of time going "Ngnghn" about this stuff, but I've never heard the why (or, at least, not for a very long time and not in a fleshed-out way like this). Thanks for taking the time to write your thoughts down.

I share all of your concerns (especially the bit about the standards, which is why I haven't engaged with activity streams, and fully loathe myself for engaging with the [little] standards work that I do). I don't have much to say in opposition, really; I agree.

What I'm not willing to do is give up trying. Really, I'd prefer to approach the problem more intelligently and creatively than bashing my head against the wall. We've lost Dopplr, and we've nearly lost Flickr, and I'd really prefer it if all these amazing things my friends have built would stop going away for silly reasons like money. Which is to say that it's kind of okay that we lost Delicious and Upcoming, because they died mostly because of healthy competition (or inept management, which I suppose is the same thing).

Anyhow, thanks, and I hope everyone that's involved with this FSW-or-whatever-you-want-to-call-it world reads your thoughts.

Also: please start blogging again. :-)
Laurent - I honestly think probably the main difference is the lightness of the web itself, and the ability for people to build things on top of it. You can build a thousand different services on top of the web, and make businesses out of all of them, and as soon as a few people do that, then there's a desire from users to get access to them, and the incumbent ISPs have to open up into those spaces. What no one has yet managed to demonstrate to me is how you create an open protocol for social stuff that is basic and fundamental enough for people to build all these different businesses on top of. I just can't see it.

To summarize:
(1) We're talking much lower level standardisation on the web than with FSN
(2) The web became a place where millions of people could run businesses, unlike what I've heard of FSN models.
+Blaine Cook publishers and services want traffic and attention metrics, and don't love mortgaging their business to facebook. people want to share with their friends, facebook is too diverse, and making a service a proxy for a community is often a pain in the neck. I think g+ as platform could work, and the magic would be transparent to users.
+Blaine Cook +Tom Coates I used to find federation difficult to argue for until I remembered the role played by the payment cards industry in forming what we consider to be open platforms. Read Paying with Plastic by Schmalensee and Evans to get an idea, they then went on to write Invisible Engines and Catalyst Code. The process by which the payment card industry arrived at federation, consolidation and horizontalisation, only to evolve into today's "small pieces loosely joined" overlay industry, is worth studying. cc +Kevin Marks
I'm generally a big fan of distributed systems. In fact I think most people of my generation on the web believe that fundamentally open and decentralised should win against proprietary and centralised in the end. As time has passed, I've come to see that position as a particular dogma when applied indiscriminately. I come from the position of someone who believes in distributed systems, but cannot see them working in this case.
If you're going to throw around anecdata about Flickr: Rays has more favourites (although not views) than anything I've posted before (and it's not my only photo to make the upper reaches of Explore, for what that's worth).
+Paul Mison it's an amazing photograph. :-) I don't mean to slight your work at Flickr – if anything, I feel really defensive about Flickr, but we need to be realistic about patterns of usage if we're going to move forward. Watching pua today, most of the photos in my friends' Flickr stream were kind of schlocky, possibly worse than the sort of thing that shows up on Instagram. That sucks, and I have faith that you and the rest of the Flickr team will be able to fix it.

What I don't have faith in is that Flickr will ever be able to regain a majority market position in terms of active users. That ship has largely sailed, and people don't like to move backwards socially. It's going to take something else to build the value that's quickly disappearing (and I do say disappearing – there's nothing that's coming up to fill Flickr's particular niche).
+Tom Coates whatever happens, building decentralised systems is harder. There's no doubt about that. I won't say impossible, though. I'll be watching Plus' evolution pretty closely.
Decentralised systems are more resilient, which helps them win out over time.
+Tom Coates I liked your analysis ; too tired to refute. I think you are looking at consumer social networks to the exclusion of enterprise social networks, where control of the platform is immensely important and where lots of money is on the table. My guess is that federated social web technologies will emerge in the enterprise space faster than in consumer world. However, I also think they'll help break down that dichotomy. 
Kevin - that's a great statement, but one without a lot of evidence to support it. There haven't been any decentralised social network initiatives that have ever really got going, so it's hard to find evidence that they work AT ALL when it comes to that particular environment. You may have an anthropic principle at work here - decentralised systems in areas where decentralised systems can work, work. Decentralised systems in areas where they don't work are not around to disprove your conjecture.
Sorry Tom, I hadn't seen your epic rant, 'cos this system only sent me JP's comment where I was atted (or plussed I suppose) and subsequent ones.
I'll try and respond properly later on (I need to go out now). broadly what you say could have been said about IM a few years back, before Jabber started taking hold of that, and of email before standardization too.
I think that there is enough commonality in the Activity Stream model to standardize the converged bits, and adapt between the different implementations of them. I agree with Evan that we're seeing this in Enterprise more strongly than in Consumer at the moment.
I could see a federated social network working if it was created by a group of large sites that know they can't compete with Facebook or Google by themselves. Something along the lines of that network of dating personals sites that a lot of publishers used 5-10 years ago (I can't tell if they still do or remember its name). You logged in through, you were at "Advocate Personals", but the people you interacted with came from and were logged into other websites too.

The New York Times can't create their own full-fledged social network, but they would stand to gain from a federated one where users log in through their site, display that red counter of new activity on all their pages, and, most importantly, get to display their own ads on all those pages. They would share users with HuffPo, Yahoo, CNN, BBC, self-hosters, but all their users would be able to interact with all their friends who aren't Times readers and they wouldn't just be sending links off to Facebook.

I think you're giving Flickr too much credit too. In a way it does suck, by not innovating in the way that services like Instagram have. Instagram has blown up despite Facebook having come along. I hate Instagram, I don't want to add dumb filters and and only have low-res versions of my photos online, but I feel like I'm missing out on conversations by not being on Instagram and posting my photos there.

It drives me crazy that Flickr has such far superior photo storage and browsing capabilities, but they still haven't come out with an app that would appeal to people in the same way that Instagram has. Their app doesn't even seem to have a Facebook sharing option, and when you take a photo if you want to post it to Twitter there is fine print all the way at the bottom with a URL on Flickr's site that you have to remember and type manually to "authorize" Twitter. That deserves a big WTF?! And the iPhone is supposedly the most popular camera being used on Flickr! Talk about not appealing to your core users.
Dan Hon
Jesus Christ, +Tom Coates , what will it take for you to start writing on your blog again?! You're spouting all this wonderful stuff and it needs to be out there in the open.
Here's a possible counter-example: Instant messaging.

Up until Google Talk arrived, the instant messaging space was totally dominated by proprietary players: AIM, ICQ, MSN and Yahoo. Instead of creating yet another protocol, Google used the open, federated XMPP (a.k.a. Jabber). Facebook later followed suit, though unlike Google, it doesn't federate; it does, however, provide plenty of documentation for external developers. (Contrast this with the likes of MSN, which continually changed its protocol around to make it hard on third-party clients.)

There are several interesting points worth noting about this:

1) Google and Facebook saw IM as a feature, whereas all the earlier players had seen it as a product. This led to a radically different strategy which allowed more openness.

2) While GTalk fully federates, the federated nature of the underlying protocol is fairly hidden from most users, so there's no additional confusion there. You just add someone by their email/jabber address.

3) XMPP was neither the first nor the simplest open IM protocol to appear. By all accounts, it's an ugly protocol to implement from scratch. But what it lacked in design it made up for in evangelism, because Jeremie Miller pitched it all over in a very effective way. This led to plenty of client and server implementations, which meant that Google and Facebook had to neither design their own protocol nor write all of the implementation themselves. (Facebook uses ejabberd on the backend, though they did some very heavy tweaking.) And the third factor was both companies giving engineers a lot of weight in these arguments; most experienced engineers of internet applications (especially at Google) have a heavy bias towards open protocols that already exist.

The most key point, for me, is that the very definition of social software - as applications relying on Metcalfe's Law for success - means that its creators want as many users as possible as fast as possible. Actively going for interoperability makes a lot of sense in the early days because you're reducing friction inbound, at least at the protocol level. Sure, it can be unnecessarily confusing to users if you expose the federation aspects in a way that users have to think about; so, don't do that. This is what the likes of Webfinger are for: use existing identifiers, grab 'em where you can, and default to looking in your own service if an external service isn't specified. (And yes, I realise I'm making it sound much easier than it is, but that's mainly to show that it's not impossible either.)

As for existing protocols for G+/FB-like SNs, could Open Social be used in a federated style? It offers accessors for activity feeds, photos etc., but so far it's been sold as a way of creating embeddable apps rather than data interchange.
Good thoughts on this stream. I've been pondering this since +Blaine Cook introduced me to the concept of the federated social web a year and a half ago. The example you gave then, Blaine, was the RFC(s) for email, which didn't allow anyone make money on the standard itself but provided all sorts of opportunities for businesses in the process (hosting, clients, spam filtering, etc.)

I can't seem to find a way past this model: common standards that work for everybody (and benefit as many as possible), and multiple competing commercial/payable services wrapped around them. Are there viable alternatives? What am I missing?

As I'm settling into Google+ and getting annoyed with recreating my social graph, I'm finding that I wish this was in place already. Why shouldn't I be able to export my connections wherever I want them? Why can't I send and consume my content where I like? And most importantly (this is the killer for me): why couldn't this user experience be accessible for even non-techies? I worry that implementations of the open standards we have now aren't available enough to those who can't code.

How can we fix this?
I saw this photo in my RSS reader, which doesn't register as a page view on Flickr.
In the Flickr vs Instagram/Social Networks argument, are we all presuming that every Flickr user wants to have an updated stream of all their contacts all the time?
Just wondering, as I'm echoing Frances Berriman above, as I actually never really use Flickr like that. For me it's a place to store my pictures, and mainly, to find specific images for specific terms, generally under CC Licence which I can then use/store/admire.
I think I've spent far more time idly browsing the 'most interesting' images of each week than actually double checking what my contacts have been up to.
+Dan Thornton I suspect that the Flickr people would be saddened by that [sole] outcome. For me, Flickr is all about the social aspects. I do use the cc search, but that's just for presentations – I assume that people who use cc search represent such a small fraction of potential users as to be insignificant. +Responsible Adult (Aaron) has been up to some really interesting explorations (documented here: ), and Jason Kottke's is totally remarkable.

More to the point, the most important insight with which Plus presents us is that we don't care about all of our contacts. I have circles that allow me to keep up with specific sets of people without limiting the utility of the broader network. I wish I could do that in Flickr. The federated argument states that the first barrier to doing so is that those people I'd most like to keep up with [in Flickr] are not Flickr users.
I totally agree that outcome probably isn't the one that was envisioned by anyone at Flickr, and I'd agree that it's likely to be a tiny audience for the foreseeable future, but I think multimedia can be tricky even with regards to decent filtering - even filtering by the smallest group of people I actually care about still means I end up with lots and lots of images that I may not be interest in, unless it's also done by subject, which then leads to a whole mess of trying to predict how one of my friends might tag a picture of his family in the future! And although those examples are definitely great, they're still working on the known variables of 'these are the right person or people'.

Maybe the problem is that the 'social network' definition is far too broad when you compare the usage of Flickr with an image storage site like Photobucket, versus the social networks of +, Facebook, Twitter etc. In the same way that I've always struggled to think of as a music service comparable to Pandora or Spotify, and instead think of it as a music wiki for researching links between bands and genres.

There's definitely a problem with the distribution of all content and comments around the web, and then the collation and response to any and all responses. As the least technical person in the conversation, I do wonder whether it's around the idea of a true federated social network in terms of distribution and interaction, or whether it's about a self-selecting catch-all defined by users adopting a particular client for their social networking. I'm still trying to work out the difference exactly in my own mind, but essentially the difference between setting up an open source federated interoperable social network on my own server, or the fact that Tweetdeck (for example) adding a service will deliver some level of interest and usage in it.

But to make a difference, the client itself would need to become powerful enough to be able to influence providers to some extent, and given the opportunity for a provider to buy clients before they reach that stage (e.g. Tweetdeck), launch their own version, or just cut them off, it's hard to see that happening (Doesn't mean it's not possible, though).

Something I do think is that things will definitely change in the future. At the moment there are very few people in the world who would spot the difference between Twitter and for example, or really see any need to care, as their key driver is where the critical mass of their contacts currently reside. But all of the issues and points we're encountering as early adopting oversharers are going to be reaching more and more people in the future, and while I don't think we'll suddenly see 500 million Facebook users suddenly start debating federated social network models, I do think that an increasing proportion of those people might start wondering a little more about their data - particularly items like family photos which have an inherent elevated personal value - in the same way as I've whitted onto people about having numerous backups for any online documents for years, and recently more and more people have either experienced losing their data or have started worrying about it and are now looking at how they can preserve everything. The trouble is we always seem to overestimate the rate of change in human values as if it was also governed by Moore's Law...
A couple of thoughts on how federation worked in previous times. +Tom Coates's arguments are good, here is some older background on how this worked previously and how it might evolve.

With the mobile/cell phone providers the federation allowed them to extend their market, people were already paying for this service, SMS messages are a chargeable service, so this was financial reconciliation, which required federation and network interoperability to work. It wasn't as simple as lets federate, there was a strong financial motive behind it. I've been using a cellphone since 1996, but I seem to remember much of the advertising was about percentage coverage of the UK population, then it slowly shifted from 'we're the biggest' to we have lowest cost/most minutes. So federation / interop led to a cost based drive to the bottom, which maybe wasn't in everyones best interests. Later working in advertising with Ericsson, around 2000 the conversation was about driving up the ACPU, the amount of money each person spent per month. 3G was seen as the saviour allowing many more things to be sold. Then there was a realisation that these phones could be computers and if that was true why couldn't they just use the internet. So another drive to the bottom in terms of pricing plans for data. Aided greatly by Apple setting the unlimited tariff with the first iPhone.

A similar case can be made for interbank reconciliations at the end of the day, the development of SWIFT, CHAPS and BACS systems reduced the cost of bank clearances and allowed more use to be made of the dormant money during the night. 30 million at 2%, even overnight is worth something.

Ease of use / payment led to the creation of VISA, which now is so disliked by the banks, due to the transaction percentage strangle hold that it has, that they are desperately for another way of making transactions work online, eg ISIS, Square and the rise of Paypal for high st transactions.

Each of these stories has a financial motive in place, this is just not true for federated social networks, unless we start reconciling data sent and received. So federation and standardisation led to lots of money being made, as there was already money moving around. It also led to static business models, as there was lots of money being made. Banks and telcos are not on most people's good players lists. (+JP Rangaswami, +Kevin Marks - any thoughts)

Federation on the web is a lovely idea, but it lacks the financial drivers as previously to generate stable businesses to make this happen. I suspect that a tablet or smart phone client will be the key to resolving this. Why? A touch screen device forces minimal number of screens and clearer ui. There is an option to pay for the client, built in too. There are dozens of aggregators already, but aggregation is arguably the easy aspect of this. I think we'll start to see limited federation on certain aspects, rather than whole "this is federation" services. Comments, address books, favourites all can be pulled at the moment, but they can also sync or be pushed back to the source. So we won't see big bang interop as we saw with the telcos and banking systems. There are too many companies involved with no financial gain to be had by that. However a unique feature here and there will lead to more interop and a more federated web, though this might take the rest of this decade to happen.
Thanks for those bits of history, +Gavin Bell. I agree with you that the lack of financial drivers is a big factor here; both the mobile markets and banks in the UK are heavily regulated in an effort to keep them from pursuing their own (potentially monopolistic) interests at the expense of consumers or the economy. (Say what you will about the efficacy of those regulations; I think the intent is fairly clear.)

I was in California when those developments were made, so I had to do a bit of research, but even beyond regulation, there is evidence of governmental facilitation too. (Have a look at the Code of Best Practice in Mobile Phone Network Development, from the Department for Communities and Local Government. )

If free market economies tend towards monopolies (whoever has the power is best placed to keep it, right?), and our (western) governments choose to reign them in to promote innovation by the little guys, then logic says that we would need a central authority to play a role here. To force everyone to act in a way that isn't in their own financial interest.

Can we do that on the web? <sceptical>

I have to agree with +Tom Coates in saying the users are the big stumbling block here. I think companies will change their tune when they can make money by federating (or building on a federated model)-- which means: when it will appeal to users. Right now, we don't seem to have made anything to support federation that will make average Joe Bloggs's eyes light up.

(Having said that, my optimism is with +Blaine Cook: just because we haven't got there yet doesn't mean we won't!)
Thanks, +Hadley Beeman & +Gavin Bell – really useful and interesting posts. I think there is a financial aspect already at play. After all, Facebook is apparently worth $100 billion (if you believe private market valuations) and Google has put an incredible amount of effort ( = $$) into Plus to counter that economic threat.

Add to that the cumulative value of the hundreds (thousands?) of startups, many primarily social in nature, and it seems clear that the financial gains or losses are perhaps beyond anything we've ever seen before. I'm sure that whatever happens, like the telephone network before, the industry will be dominated by a few major players.

The question for us, today, is whether we can support a healthy and growing ecosystem of small participants who perform experiments in the "social" space, or if we should just give up given the failures of virtually all relatively small social startups (i.e., all those that don't have significant power and funding behind them from day one) and most of the big ones.
+Blaine Cook tldr: less bitching, more building. (And thank you +Tom Coates for introducing the word "build" into this thread and using it repeatedly.)

Quit bitching about:
a) only one sharecropped photo view after one week,
b) not wanting to manually post a photo to Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Plus etc.,
c) building decentralised systems is harder.

and instead build for yourself:
* photo-posting/hosting at realtime with ActivityStreams+PuSH,
* syndicating out (with snowflake APIs if necessary) to all the photo-silos ("photos go to where my friends are looking at photos"),
* and reverse-syndicating (poll, snowflake API whatever) all the comments/faves/tags back to the original photo on in time order sequence (postpone your "have to manage a fragmented conversation" handwaving problem until you've built it, are using it day-to-day, and can report actual problems).

and share your code/ux/design that you use to build this feature on so other independents can too.

Build it, use it, share it. #indieweb
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