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Monday, January 31, 2011

Do Facebook and iPhone Usage And Application Adoption Represent The End Of The Original Intent Of The Internet?

It seems like Facebook and the iPhone have insidiously  crept up on us without us really comprehending what they are doing to the original concept of the Internet. I though the original intent of the Internet was for everyone to have access to an open environment putting the responsibility on the individual to decide what content they wanted to view. No one would pay for access to applications  and we would decide for ourselves what was good or bad, who our friends are and how we interact with them. Essentially, we would be in control of the content we viewed and the people we interacted with.

If you take a look at what Facebook and Apple are doing it clearly represents a very different concept. Both Facebook and Apple decide what applications you will and will not interact with. All Facebook and Apple iPhone, iPad applications are screened before they appear in the Facebook or iPhone worlds. We see and interact with what they consider to be approved content. Essentially, their acceptance criteria dictates what you and I see on the Internet.

What is surprising and perhaps a bit scary to me is that I have not heard application providers or individuals grumble(a little bit) about the tyranny of Apple and Facebook policies.

The Facebook situation is the more interesting one. The Facebook social network dictates what you do and do not interact with. This control is a bit more insidious then pure application access control. Your profile information is used to encourage you to interact with other people that have similar profiles and use similar applications. For instance, if you went to a certain university you are encouraged to join that University group and interact with that group. If a friend of yours is using an application(which is controlled by Facebook) you are stonlgy encouraged to use that app.

If you step back even further and look at other organizations that are becoming Internet usage aggregaters a picture begins to unfold revealing that only a few organizations are controlling what we see and do on the Internet. Google is an obvious one. They decide what is important and less important when you search for something. Amazon is another. They leverage your buying history to recommend what other products you should buy and what vendors you should buy from. They also host most of the major Web applications on the net with  their cloud computing platform.

You may say that certain parts of the world are not as prone to be influenced by Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc. China comes to mind as an argument. However, China in many ways is even more interesting because of the control the Chinese government has over Internet content distribution. In this case RenRen, QQ, TenCent and Baidu are doing the same thing as their complements in the Western world with even greater impact because of the Chinese government's influence or Internet usage.

This observation is not meant to be Orwellian in nature. However, it should make us all start thinking about how much information we are providing these mega aggregaters and how much they are dictating what we see, experience, buy and who we interact with on the net. The next time you drop into Facebook and play Farmville or do a search in Google or buy something from Amazon give the interaction a few seconds of though. Is this what you really want to do or is this something that the aggregaters want you to do?

Kevin Flood is the CEO of Gameinlane, Inc. Kevin writes extensively about online games and their impact and integration into iGaming and E-commerce environments. Kevin is a frequent speaker at online game events and conferences in Asia, Europe and the US. Kevin and his Gameinlane team are currently working with online gambling, social gaming and e-commerce companies integrating social gaming with online gaming operations and integrate game mechanics into e-commerce applications. 

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