Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Now You Can Never Leave Facebook

Joshua Topolsky, writing for the New Yorker:

I wrote several years ago that Facebook’s dream is not to be your favorite destination on the Internet; its desire is to be the Internet. It would prefer that when you connect in the digital realm—an increasingly all-encompassing expanse—you do it within Facebook, which now includes Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus VR (in addition to its robust news feed, its Messenger chat app, its Moments photo-sharing platform, its video-player platform… well, you get the idea). This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; for years technology companies have waged platform battles, hoping to lock in users with hardware, software, or services that only function inside a proprietary venue. Closed systems make your patronage simpler and more consistent, and it is through a closed system that a company can most readily own and control your data, which is then converted to revenue.

If bad software design can be likened to airports, Facebook can be likened to a Vegas casino. Need to eat? There’s a buffet just over there. Is it 3:00 in the morning? The casino happens to be attached to a hotel. Want to head outside? You need to pass through the casino to do so.

Here, I must protest:

Compare Facebook’s interlocking approach with one of Silicon Valley’s most long-lived and dominant success stories: Google. Both companies have been wildly successful at upending our notions of how to navigate the world, but Google’s core product—search—is expressly designed to do the opposite of what Facebook attempts. Search, by its very nature, is an action that leads you away from the platform, into other experiences and onto other platforms. Even though Google has built up a relatively sophisticated infrastructure of services around its search product (which plenty of critics argue has created another kind of closed loop), it has never abandoned the foundational element of its business: openness.

That’s rich. The “argue” link goes to CNN’s story about the E.U.’s allegations of antitrust behaviour by Google:

For example, people searching for “running watch” will see photos, prices, ratings and links to five watches from companies that paid Google to advertise on the site. They won’t see Amazon or other rivals’ results listed first, and they’re not necessarily seeing the best or most relevant products at the top of the results.

“It’s not based on the merits of Google shopping that it always comes up first in search,” Europe’s top anti-trust official Margrethe Vestager said. “Dominant companies can’t abuse their dominant position to create advantage in related markets.”

How about their other big product, Android? While its source is ostensibly open, providing access to any of Google’s services is rigidly controlled. Last year, Google was set to increase their control over third-party uses of Android before the so-called “Silver” initiative was shelved.

Make no mistake: every company has now realized that an integrated platform strategy works to keep users within the ecosystem. Facebook has simply excelled in their ability to glue users to their properties at all times, regardless of operating system or device.