A couple people have been writing about Facebook’s moves towards increased openness and transparency, including Chris Messina and John McCrea who are both influential and insightful advocates for a more open Web (I have already written about David Recordon’s views in my first post in this unintended series). I came across their recent posts in which they talk about Facebook’s moves towards greater transparency and openness which I want to write about, partly because of the difficulties I have with this notion of Facebook as transparent and open.
The people within Facebook not only believe in what they’re doing but are on the leading edge of Generation Open. It’s not merely an age thing; it’s a mindset thing. It’s about having all your references come from the land of the internet rather than TV and becoming accustomed to — and taking for granted — bilateral communications in place of unidirectional broadcast forms. Where authority figures used to be able to get away with telling you not to talk back, Generation Open just turns to Twitter and lets the whole world know what they think.
But it’s not just that the means of publishing have been democratized and the new medium is being mastered; change is flowing from the events that have shaped my generation’s understanding of economics, identity, and freedom.
Talking to people at Facebook (in light of the arc of their brief history) you might not expect openness to come culturally. Similarly, talking to Microsoft you could presume the same. In the latter case, you’d be right; in the former, I’m not so sure.
See, the people who populate Facebook are largely from Generation Open. They grew up in an era where open source wasn’t just a bygone conclusion, but it was central to how many of them learned to code. It wasn’t in computer science classes at top universities — those folks ended up at Arthur Anderson, Accenture or Oracle (and probably became equally boring). Instead, the hobbyist kids cut their teeth writing WordPress plugins, Firefox extensions, or Greasemonkey scripts. They found success because of openness.
That Zuckerberg et al talk about making the web a more “open and social place” where it’s easy to “share and connect” is no surprise: it’s the open, social nature of the web that has brought them such success, and will be the domain in which they achieve their magnum opus. They are the original progeny of the open web, and its natural heirs.
(Chris Messina’s blog post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)
McCrea is a self-confessed Facebook fanboy and is convinced that Facebook is going to be a big part of the increasingly open Web:
And Facebook, which could have used it’s market leadership position to attempt to build “Walled Garden 2.0,” instead has been moving boldly down an ever more open pathway. My friend David Recordon said it well recently in a post entitled Facebook in 2010: no longer a walled garden.
Okay, I’ve gone over the top with this post, but I’m glad I got this off my chest. Why is all of this significant? The Web is going social (with a big help from Facebook), and the Social Web is going open (along with Facebook). That means we’re on the cusp of a massive wave of change that will unleash an innovation explosion.
There is certainly the potential and the opportunity for Facebook to become a truly open social network. Its move towards a more open governance structure through its proposed Facebook Principles and its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities are definitely moves in the right direction despite concerns about what the two documents say in real terms.
That being said, Facebook doesn’t have to do anything. It has chosen to make changes which the vast majority of its 175 million users are oblivious to. That still says something about its commitment to effect some kind of change for the better. How open Facebook will become remains to be seen. In the meantime this image from Recordon’s post serves as a reminder how the Web could look in another year: