The Social Computing panel at Office 2.0 failed to deliver on the premise of exploring the impact of Social Computing on the Enterprise. I was planning on ducking out when John McCrea of Plaxo started talking about the Open Social Web. The topic was far more important than any of the other panel blather.
John said “What I’m seeing reminds me now of a very exciting time in 1994, when the web emerged. We could see how the web would change the enterprise. What we’re seeing now is the impact of the social web. It’s not just interesting and fun. It’s something fundamental and important. It needs to be as open as the web.”
Users of social networking platforms are familiar with some of the symptoms of the walled gardens we inhabit. I’ll call it the Hotel California syndrome; your data goes in, but never checks out. All those photos on Flickr? Fergitaboutit, there’s no easy batch export. Tired of filling out yet another profile? That information is rarely portable. Same with your list of friends and contacts. In all too many cases, they can’t be easily transferred to your next social network.
That’s why the current set of social networks will never realize their full potential unless they become open. After all, Reed’s Law states that the utility of social networks increases exponentially when subgroups are able to connect. Today, that kind of connectivity is poorly served by limited APIs and less than open transport of data in and out of major platforms.
So how important is the Social Open Web? Critically important if we want to maximize the utility and value of all that’s been built so far. I just hope that the economic incentives are powerful enough to erode the garden walls.