I remember trying to explain to a PR person once that the whole point of the Web was the links. No one wants to go to a dead, brochure-ware page, I explained. The links are what give it vitality.
It was a tricky time, because she and many, many others couldn’t understand the concept of Internet reciprocity. Others link to us, so we link to them, and everybody wins because the whole is more useful than the individual sites.
Granted, everybody knew it was important to capture and retain surfers. But we also knew you wouldn’t do it by becoming an island.
As far as I can tell, Facebook was the first to really challenge that paradigm. It was a platform unto itself: You could upload and view photos, see videos and even get a preview of content — all without leaving its site. There was nothing about it that innately encouraged linking to outside sites.
Still, even Facebook supported linking, abeit in its own, self-serving way, through open APIs that allowed users to like and share content from other sites, and later to even log into those sites through Facebook’s login service.
Remember when “open API” meant open to everyone and a more integrated Web?
Me, too. Those were good times. Yes, indeed, good times.
In the last few years, we’ve seen a shift toward increasingly walled social sites. That’s lead to a strange, almost paradoxical development: The strategy now is all about integration and who controls it.
We’re not just talking about social media sites, either. Some say integration will become more important to vendors than the actual enterprise applications as more companies move to software as a service.
“Control integration, control the cloud” seems to be the new business model, even the new philosophy, of the Web.
It sounds fine and well — after all, integration makes life easier for IT. But integration also has a destructive side, because if you control integration, then you can also decide what you integrate and what you don’t.
Just ask Twitter, which has been on both the giving and receiving end of the “integrate everybody but you” war strategy.
Instagram stripped out a key element of its instant integration with Twitter earlier this month, which means users can no longer view Instagram photos on Twitter. Instead, they see a link to Instagram’s site, which now includes Facebook-esque features such as “like,” comments and hashtags.
And of course this has nothing to do with the fact Twitter bid against Facebook for ownership of Instagram in April.
“We've since launched several improvements to our website that allow users to directly engage with Instagram content through likes, comments, hashtags and now we believe the best experience is for us to link back to where the content lives,” Instagram Founder and CEO Kevin Systrom said in an official statement.
Because it’s all about what’s “the best experience” for Instagram, right?
Obviously, these social media giants are in a battle over users and, unfortunately, it doesn’t look like better online integration or “happy customers” is part of their plan. But it’s not just users who should be concerned: Businesses should, too, according to IT Business Edge’s Mike Vizard.
Not that we should pity Twitter, which played similar integration games when it eliminated integration with LinkedIn and blocked some apps from accessing its services, as Silicon Valley points out.
It’s disappointing to see social media sites playing these games, but the reality is I don’t have to use some goofy photo manipulation app if I don’t want to. It’s not that big a deal to me whether or not I can post a magenta-tinged photo of my new rosemary plant to Twitter or Facebook or just not at all.
What is unnerving is this trend toward using integration as a bludgeoning weapon against your competition, particularly when they seem to care less if users take the brunt of the blow.
But what will really keep me up at nights is this: What happens when the big enterprise app vendors join the game?