[iDC] Will you delete your Feedburner account?

Trebor Scholz trebor at thing.net
Thu Jun 7 08:22:49 EDT 2007

Thanks, Burak. Bernardo Parrella interviewed me about this sudden rush
of acquisitions a few days ago. As his text will be in Italian, I'm
using my response here and also add thoughts from a lecture that I
presented in Stockholm and Hamburg last week. 

You can listen to the vodcast or see the presentation "Seven
propositions for the future of the sociable web": 
GOOGLE now owns Blogger, Writely, Dodgeball, Feedburner, YouTube, and
Picasa. EBay took over Stumbleupon and Skype. YAHOO snatched up
Facebook, Del.icio.us, WebJay, Jumpcut, Upcoming.org, and Oddpost.

Mr. Murdoch's NEWS CORP acquired MySpace, the video and photo-sharing
site PhotoBucket and the media mash up site Flektor.  It goes without
saying that they already own Fox News and Fox TV, and a few good old
publishing houses like Harper Collins, Daily Telgraph, The Times, New
York Daily Post, The Sun, and The Australian.   

Fox Interactive bought Photobucket, which is well-liked on MySpace.
NewsCorp's effort is to make services on MySpace proprietary. This means
that in the future, MySpacers, will not be able to plug in third party
services. The goal is to create, popularize, and monetize in-house
applications and then close the door to the wealth of the sociable web.
Murdoch clearly does not get the sociable web as this direction will go
at the expense of the teens on MySpace. 

Ebay's acquisition of Stumbleupon, the web browser plug-in that allows
its users to discover and rate web pages, is driven by a different
impulse. Ownership of the company means access to the 2.5 million strong
community using it and will help eBay to gain more exposure for their
web pages, which will lead to more transactions. We are oversaturated
with information and such referral sites, peer-to-peer recommendation,
will only become more important. 

Social software architectures (code) assert control. Code has agency,
political implications, and it represents a worldview. Always. There is
a chance, however, for agents in "social operating systems" to perform
this code with critical awareness. Owning an environment such as MySpace
means that you can subtly "adjust" the code in a way that draws people
to your site and retains them there. Not offering people an easy way to
export all the content that they contributed, makes it very hard for
them leave. Also, this centrality (i.e. 85% of all American college
students are active on Facebook) creates a captive audience. Exiting
such a community would isolate you from your friends and fellow

In the fall of 2006 almost 700,000 joined a "Students Against Facebook
News Feed" group that protested the introduction of a new feature that’d
allow parents, for example, to RSS feed the Facebook pages of their
children. Not cool. Students threatened to delete their accounts or
else. This Facebook mutiny shows two things. On the one hand it says:
"Don’t mess with networked publics!!!" Students are linked up now and
they care (seemingly more about their privacy than the war in Iraq).
Facebook had to revoke the feature. But the other lesson is that net
publics are captive audiences on these core sites of the sociable web
and that the only chance that they have is to cause a ruckus as the
exist costs would be too high.      

Google buying Feedburner, a site that allows blog owners and podcasters
to manage their RSS feeds, is also no surprise. Over 400,000
“publishers” use Feedburner. Community is the commodity. 

What these media giants are actually buying is not service environments
but the people who are using them: it's cold cash for hot communities.
It's not even mainly about the content. 

Walled gardens are the danger of this obvious development toward
consolidation. The sociable web echoes capitalist society!! The wealth
and diversity of what the corporate world calls Web 2.0, and what I call
the sociable web, is at risk! 

MySpace wants to become a proprietary platform-- just like Steve Job’s
iPhone or Sony’s eBook reader-- and that is ultimately not even good for
business; all the quirky, small applications that are coming out each
week are fun for people to use. Closing the door to the wealth of the
sociable web is a poor decision.

Burak asks if we should call it quits; good bye, Feedburner? No. How
much of a chance is there for essentialist alternatives in a
post-autonomy world? Today's small startup (i.e.
http://www.feedwhip.com/) will be in the pocket of one media giant or
the other by next month.

We can, however, diversify the tools that we are using and build
non-profit or hybrid alternatives. 

It is foolish to naturalize capitalism, as many do, by arguing that only
greedy big business can support large-scale social life.
Fuhgetaboutit!!! Sure, Google’s server farms cost plenty. In spite of
that you do not have to have a projected value/profit of $15 billion,
like MySpace (bought for $583 million), in order to have sufficient
incentives to create a useful context-providing platform.

Take Craigslist. Most of you will know this network for urban
communities. It operates in 450 cities worldwide and supports 5 billion
page views per month. It is number 34 of all sites on the web in terms
of traffic. In December 2006, Craigslist's CEO stunned Wall Street
analysts by letting them know that 

"Craigslist has little interest in maximizing profit from the website
but instead prefers only to help users find cars, apartments, jobs and


Trebor Scholz
Recent texts, lecture podcasts and vodcasts
Blog: http://collectivate.net/journalisms/
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