Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Microsoft will win the "Web 2.0" war on, of all issues, privacy

A few days ago, Facebook made what seemed to be a small tweak to its Friend Requests area. As first noted by Inside Facebook, the social network changed the way friend rejections work. Previously, you could either Confirm or Ignore (deny) a request. Now, Ignore has been replaced by “Not Now”. This new option takes some of the pressure off you having to reject people as it instead moves them into a state of limbo, where they’re neither accepted nor rejected. But it actually does a lot more as well.

You see, when someone requests to be your friend on Facebook, this automatically subscribes them to all of your public (“Everyone”) posts in their News Feed. Facebook doesn’t talk about this much, but it’s a very real feature, which we reported on in July of last year. You see these posts until this person rejects you (because obviously if they accept you as a friend, you’ll keep seeing them). So with this new Not Now button, and the removal of the simple rejection mechanism, Facebook has basically created a de-facto follow feature.

Facebook Has Quietly Implemented A De-Facto Follow Feature

A few years ago all these smart people were saying that the Cloud of the Web would wipe Microsoft out of business. Why would anyone, they argued, spend the money and effort to install copies of Microsoft Office, Windows, Exchange Server or SharePoint when all this functionality could be had in the public domain via new "Web 2.0" companies that charged little or simply placed ads on your content. In this model Google, Yahoo, and MySpace were to eat Microsoft alive as people stopped using Microsoft products first at home and then, or so the reasoning went, at work to reduce costs.

Well let me put my neck out a bit here and say no this is NOT how it will go down. No question sites like Facebook and Twitter are more interesting for consumers than say Excel or Word, and mobile devices right now live in a Universe pretty free of Microsoft, BUT the key money maker is still the ability of these "Cloud" based free or low cost services to move in to business. And this is where Microsoft will kick their back sides.

The thing is the temptation for any Web 2.0 site is to improve advertising revenue by compromising the privacy of users to collect more information about users. Further there is a key driver to keep most of the details of how information is managed secret from users and to protect public corporate images by trying to control what content is created and distributed.

In a word the Microsoft model is where one company produces all the TVs but their are lots and lots of TV stations and public access sites, while the Google model is where there is one TV station.

Companies, governments and organisations will NEVER allow their information to be managed in this way. They need to hold on to the information they make. They need to have full control over its life cycle. They need to decide how long to hold it and who to show it to. They need privacy and transparency to management. As far as business is concerned Web 2.0 mainstays like YouTube, Twitter, Digg, Facebook, and Flickr are good for marketing and little else. They pose significant dangers beyond just employees wasting their time at work.

So private companies are going to want to take advantage of Web 2.0 technology, BUT not use the Web 2.0 business model, and this is essential. People who write and talk about the Internet seem to just look at the technology and ignore the business model. They saw a Flickr in 2005 or a Google Docs in 2007 and stated "how can 1990s based technology sold by MS deal with this."

But the key issue is that 2 features were required for a Cloud coup against Microsoft:

1. was the Internet based technology making Microsoft's offering obsolete before Microsoft could respond,
2. a distribution model (like Open Source or Open Knowledge models) which could replace Microsoft's model in time.

Without the one two punch Microsoft could always respond in time. Certainly the technology evolved leaving Microsoft seriously behind, but the social models did not. Rather than getting something like Wikipedia or the blogosphere or independent content creators who felt morally and professionally obligated to be Open, Web 2.0 moved in to a murky world of Corporate Censorship/Branding mixed with Spying/Marketing. For private users this raises concerns but for corporations this makes them utterly impossible.

The inability of Flickr to provide a secured private service you could use at work to manage images, the inability of Google to get Docs popular or offer a secured version for businesses, the inability of Facebook for offer a trustworthy services, have all given Microsoft the time it needed to evolve SharePoint and now BPOS.

I know of one major global IT form which is actually going office Google Cloud services to BPOS right now.

The inability to provide a dedicated area that you control was what kept Web 2.0 companies like Google, Facebook, and Yahoo out of the Enterprise. And now that the system are getting more and more complex Microsoft "stack" model of a single vendor end to end is even stronger than it was 10 years ago.

The Social Computing Web 2.0 "revolution" provided the technology that could have crushed the Windows/Word view of the world. But the failure of Web 2.0 companies to develop business models flushed that opportunity down the toilet.

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