With All This Openness Where Is The Destination?

About two weeks ago, Alexander Van Elsas had an interesting post where he asked several questions about the current state of web applications. There were a few questions that really bothered me as I initially thought they had been answered several times:

  • If everything becomes open and connected, what will happen to the big destinations?
  • Why is the web rapidly evolving into uncountable databases with connections, instead of one database where everything connects?
  • If all services and destinations become open, then what is the point in being a destination site in the first place?
  • Why are we creating webs within webs, instead of one network that connects it all?

After thinking for a little bit, I realized that these questions are far from answered, and the answers are going to get harder to find. For the web 2.0 and social media crowd, the current destinations are not really destinations. Destination may also be an old term for what is currently happening. Destinations were the keys to the castle in the old web, but the new web is more about communication and conversations that are happening now.

Most web sites are still thinking in terms of the destination. Some of this can be seen in the various forms of private messaging that many sites offer. Facebook, Twitter and FriendFeed all have private messaging options. There really is no reason for having private messages directly within the application. Given that all of these sites require an email address, why not just make the private message an email gateway? Bernard Lunn shares this frustration in a great rant:

Why do I have to go to LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter to send messages? Why do people insist on using these non-standard messaging systems? If people said, “Don’t call me on the telephone — I prefer the delephone,” you would think they were crazy. For a while, this was a minor inconvenience, but now it is starting to get out of control.

Alexander’s questions were very related to this point. Why does each system have its own private messaging? “Why is the web rapidly evolving into uncountable databases with connections, instead of one database where everything connects?” I think the answer is in the question itself. The internet is also called the web. Both terms can be loosely defined as “nodes connecting to various points through several possible different pathways”. Yes, this is just my definition but you can look up the definition of networks and find similar terminology. In computer science terms, the internet is basically a graph, likely cyclic and sometimes directed. This is why it seems like there is always another database popping up that wants us to enter data.

What does this have to do with the destinations? Well, in the social media world, the destination is becoming a more fluid idea. Facebook wants to be the destination, but is opening things up a little bit at a time. As Chris Messina puts it, the “people” namespace is likely the destination:

Owning the “people” namespace will determine whether people see the web through Google’s technicolor glasses or Facebook’s more nuanced and monochrome blue hues.

The problem is that we are probably seeing a radical shift in the way the web works, and I am not talking about the semantic web or linked data yet. The real-time or conversational web is coming very slowly, so we do not see this radical change right away. It is occurring because of the timing of various things. Finally, phones have become useful internet devices. We are seeing other devices like the Kindle and even rumors of tablet PCs. You may no longer need a desktop or laptop computer to engage in the real-time web because the real-time sites are sending information over IM and SMS.

The destination is the user. Applications need to see that soon in order to really take advantage of what this means. People will not need to visit each site because the information is being pushed to them, whereever they are. Of course, the question becomes how are applications going to monitize this type of activity? Part of the equation could be monthly fees to use the real-time services of IM and SMS. Another side of it could be the old Microsoft model, where the developers are the ones that build for-pay applications and some money goes back to the platform. Steve Rubel thinks this should be the model for Twitter:

What Twitter has done, however, that very few companies have achieved, is build an amazing platform that developers love. That ecosystem, if they invest in it, changes the game. Suddenly, Twitter is no longer a web site. Rather, it is becoming the web’s first major social operating system.

If the mobile destination of the user really is the future, then development platforms like Twitter could be the monetization model for many social media applications. What about Alexander’s last question, “Why are we creating webs within webs, instead of one network that connects it all?” Honestly, that is the nature of the internet, creating small networks within the larger network. We are knitting together data from various sources to create something better. With the help of more mobile platforms, the data can be sent to you anywhere. That means the destination is where you are.

15 thoughts on “With All This Openness Where Is The Destination?

  1. While you have some excellent points, I disagree with the idea that an application’s private message service should be an e-mail gateway. If the concept of “destination” is an old idea, the concept of communicating via e-mail is an even older idea. If I want to make sure that my teenage daughter DOESN’T read something, I send it to her in an e-mail. Even at my advanced age, there are times when I prefer to communicate within the application, rather than having to make the old-fashioned GMail or Hotmail my…um…destination.

    I can provide an example. One of my FriendFeed friends is arranging a gathering this weekend, and is using FriendFeed’s direct messaging feature to ensure that each of the invitees sees it. Several of us are commenting on the original invitation, which in the FriendFeed UI appears as comments below the original item. As these comments are added, each of our direct message boxes is highlighted.

    Now imagine if this were being conducted in our e-mail applications instead. This would be a long e-mail thread, possibly bifurcating into umpteen million sub-e-mails of limited groups, extra groups, and the like. While there are situations in which e-mail would be preferable, this is not one of them.

    I know I’m focusing on a very minor point in your post, but perhaps there is some rationale for keeping messaging facilities within the application. Now perhaps it would be good if the different messaging facilities could talk to each other – since the application vendors have established inter-application links between other features, why not messaging? – but please don’t force me to go back to an application which, with a few exceptions, hasn’t really changed since *I* was a teenager.


  2. John,

    Excellent example of the FriendFeed conversation. Threaded conversations are definitely a major bonus and I completely agree with your thought. The whole email/DM thing was something I added as an example of what happens without the openness, and it seems like other people have picked up on that as well.


  3. Rob,

    I got a little jolt reading the line – “The destination is the user.” You have articulated this well.

    Of course the future will be “live and open.” Marc Canter says this, Scoble preaches IT, Leo Laporte shows us that static media has not met OUR current needs to be informed with the info WE desire, in the place WE want IT – where WE want IT.

    Today, a handful are flocking to the real-time web and slapping our hands on our foreheads asking “when will the rest of the world wake-up?” FriendFeed is showing us that real-time is ready for prime-time. With the increase of data flow, filtering is key- as most of us will experience ‘social-media fatigue’ and tap out only to return sporadically until an event prompts us to create new habits.

    Outside of the techVangelist world, some ask me how I’m able to cover so much ground so quickly? I bring the info to my ‘spot’ via gReader and use Feedly (the FireFox Extension) to push back out to the other social net silos I participate in. I’m interested in better ‘concept’ filters but am encouraged by the work being done at Reuters to develop Calais ‘overlay.’ I’m a firm believer that filters will bring that which is pertinent to me, in a timely fashion and will be flexible/ adjustable.

    Again, I point to Canter – “all software will be social.” One could also take this as all ______ will be social. We desire the meta-data that confirms/ validates/ draws us deeper into the ‘conversation.’

    I no longer see email as fragmented conversations with many stems, each ‘subject’ can be treated as a conversation fork via gMail and subject denotation – the ‘back-and-forths’ are just your ‘near-time’ conversations which are threaded, searchable, sharable.

    Your article caused two ‘actions’ for me – I booked marked it via, Delicious which is now finding the audience there, the bookmark is in my near-time stream at FriendFeed, SocialMedian, Strands, Myblog Log (on and on) where it has a chance to find audience perhaps even stimulate additional discussion, and the work prompted me to write this comment. All of this done with 4 clicks. May I be so bold in saying – that I’m the destination (for me,) WE are the conversation – our worlds connect through IT. Open thy firehose, port that info, build the api’s that allow us to evangelize the work – IT works.

    Thank you for seeing IT so clearly Rob – you are a good human.


  4. Indeed, the destination is us. But that in no way justifies network fragmentation. The whole point of internetworking is to link all nodes regardless of their nature, and we – the users – should not tolerate being fenced in. The walled gardens may bring short term rewards (all the girls are on Facebook, so even I have an account there…) but the younger generation should be reminded of how we suffered in the age of the BBS and what a liberation Internet connectivity has been. Whether a walled garden is accessible from my mobile communicator is irrelevant : what matters is the free movement of data.

    I concur with John Bredehoft that email is the canonical example of an open service : it does not matter who provides the service to you, it is fully interoperable with everyone else and you can change provider easily. There is no reason to settle for anything else. Open and decentralized social media tools appear and the users will adopt them as they begin to understand where their interests are.


  5. Michael,

    Thanks for the praise, though I think it is somewhat undeserved. It just happens to be one of those ideas that slowly finds it way until you figure it out. However, I do not think it is a big discovery as much as me finding the right words to use.


  6. Jean-Marc and Mark

    I fully agree that the ideas from the past, and how the internet itself was built, should not be forgotten. The problem is only that we need to go to a different level of abstraction to figure out what needs to be done, and that tends to be quite difficult. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out though.


  7. I think you nailed it with “Destination is the user”. Using that as a basis it follows that individuals would follow messaging(or poking or sheep throwing!) practices most pertinent to a specific group they belong to.

    Diversity is a given with the idea of an internet, every niche that can be filled will be filled and that is not bad. For example mode of communication I use at work will be different from what I use for friends. It should not be mandated that I use a single system for all my communication needs!

    Interoperability is a noble goal but somewhat wishful if history is any indication. What is feasible is for these sub-graphs(Say Facebook) to put systems in place to open and reach out to other sub-graphs.

    Excellent post btw. My understanding is a little clearer after reading and commenting..off to friendfeed now! 🙂


  8. Hi Rob,

    The user s the destination, exactly my thoughts (although I tend to use User-Centric Web).
    I do realize a strength of the web lies in it’s nature, nodes connected by various paths.
    I have several problems with current destination thinking. It obviously leads to walled gardens that force “api” development to open up. We duplicate every building block needed to provide a user service, simply because our business models force us to have our own walled garden in the web to make money. My biggest concern with destination thinking is that it distracts from the user. It focuses on the wrong parameters. The network is more important than the individual user.
    In User Centric, or User Driven thinking, a lot of these issues could be resolved quite naturally. Privacy would not be implemented within a service, but is part of the user traveling the web. Instead of building walls, a service would truly become a service point. competition would be based upon user value, instead of network growth. And an interesting thought comes to mind. If important user data is part of the user, instead of part of a service, things like interoperability would be solved quite naturally.
    Think of the user as a traveler, and a service provider as a restaurant or a gas station. No need for all that complexity. Provide good service and you will have customers. The interface is simple and the traveler can disclose anything he feels necessary to get an optimal service.


  9. Mahesh

    Interoperability has always been the holy grail of most software development. Typically it is very difficult and takes a long time to do correctly. With things like OpenSocial and more open APIs, we may be closer to having all of these “sub-graphs” talk to each other better.


  10. Alexander,

    I love your ideas behind a user-centric web, but I have a feeling you will be waiting a very long time for it. First, I think it is too drastic a change for companies to accept quickly. We will get baby steps along the way, but it will be very incremental. The other side of it is that web sites always want to be THE place where you get your information. How else can they build a business model if they have no traffic? This is probably going to be even harder to get past due to the way most companies have always worked. It is not intuitive that you can make a successful web business by allowing users to leave your pages.


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