Google co-founder Sergey Brin recently explained that if the web was dominated by Apple and Facebook, his company wouldn’t have access to enough information to start its search engine. The idea is that the restrictive policies of Facebook make crawling its pages challenging if not impossible while Apple’s iPod, iPhone and iPad apps are generally not searchable.
He further explained the challenge to the internet from governments like Saudi Arabia, China, Iran and even the US where internet access is either limited or threatened to be limited very soon via regulation which is the case with proposed legislation like Sopa and Pipa.
In January of 2008 I discussed the rise of the splinternet – or a splintering of the homogenous internet we once were accustomed to using. At the time I said:
In the good old days having a website was good enough... This was your portal to the world -- your customers and everyone else. But slowly but surely a wealth of new communities are being created and if you aren't part of them, you could risk losing tremendous market share. In other words, a single homogeneous Internet is no longer what marketers can count on.
Just yesterday in fact, Hasbro Inc. "woke up" to the fact that over 600,000 daily users utilize a Facebook application called Scrabulous which is a Scrabble clone. Scrabble -- the popular word-based board game is owned by Hasbro, the company which launched a lawsuit hoping to shut Scrabulous down.
In September of 2010 I surmised that HTML5 will slow the growth of the Splinternet and while I still believe this is the case, the growth of apps in app stores and governments looking to “clamp down” on open communications has only grown. Here is an excerpt from that piece:
In January of 2008 I used a term Splinternet to describe the growing number of areas content providers need to focus on when delivering their services. It seems according to Forrester Research I coined the term as it refers to a splintering of the traditional Internet. At the time I used Facebook as an example of this splintering but over the years, app stores too have also become a major splintered area as media companies and others as they look to optimize their presence in each disparate splinterverse.
More recently, Wired declared the Web dead which reinforces for me that as a society we are going in the wrong direction - one of exponentially more splintered communities. Of course Apple and Facebook have every reason in the world to continue to promote apps which are dependent on their platforms and/or approval process but is this good for users or bad?
My sense is as concerned as I am about the Splinternet becoming the Internet - and you can argue the transformation has already taken place, there is tremendous hope that HTML5 will force developers to first write apps for the web and worry about the app stores later.
The only thing we need now is an open HTML5 store which handles the billing for developers who want the widest audience possible as their creative work is monetized.
My optimism was shattered when I wrote a piece about Facebook becoming the internet back in March of 2011 in response to a newspaper moving all its content to the world’s most popular social networking service. Here is an excerpt:
But as Facebook has grown in power and influence, it is becoming a more important slice of the pie and as such developers are looking to it as a platform to start developing on first. Certainly Zynga - the company behind Facebook games such as FarmVille and CityVille being worth about $10B hasn't put a dent in this idea.
But it isn't just the developers moving to Facebook, one newspaper, Rockville Central has decided to move all of its content to the social networking site and it will cease putting fresh content on its own site entirely.
But Google doesn’t own the rights to content on Facebook, or iOS apps. Moreover, Google is perhaps the most powerful company on earth as it can instantly demote a website so it is no longer found when a relevant query is made. How do we feel concern or pity for a company which most human beings rely on daily?
So should we be concerned that the internet is spintering? Yes. Especially when it comes to foreign countries – but Apple, Facebook and other companies have no obligation to improve the quality of Google’s search engine.
In closing, I agree the world would be a better place if search engines had easy access to all information in the form of the internet not splinternet. However, it is really tough to feel sorry for one of the most powerful companies on the web – once which routinely puts sites who are potential competitors out of business through search engine changes which come with no warning or recourse to websites who are eliminated from results.