Open Protocols

My partner Albert wrote a great post yesterday that I'd like to highlight. His going in assertion is:

It would a huge benefit to society if we can get with social networking to where we are with email today: it is fundamentally decentralized with nobody controlling who can email whom about what, anyone can use email essentially for free, there are opensource and commercial implementations available and third parties are offering value added services.  All of that is made possible by the existence of standards such as SMTP and IMAP.

Albert goes on to suggest what some of the key open protocols might be; webfinger, pubsubhubbub, and salmon, and then asks for comments and suggestions, which he got on his own blog and also on Hacker News.

A comment on Hacker News says that (which I backed along with many others) is using the, Webfinger, RSS, pubSubHubbub protocols. So that's a good thing. Dave Winer, the father of RSS, also has been posting up a storm on this stuff.

I believe in open protocols and open APIs. That is what the web was built on and that is how we can best take it forward in the spirit it was given to us. All of this is geeky and only interesting to a tiny minority of web users. It is not a threat to Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the other social platforms who serve a mass audience any time soon. But it is important stuff nonetheless and I am happy that folks are talking about it and building stuff.


Comments (Archived):

  1. nilburns

    Emphasis on “any time soon”. I (and i guess a lot of other dev/product) see FB and Twitter as company slayers, where any change on the API can kill a product. So I for once, see them as a necessary evil, don’t build on them and see them as only one source.On the other hand, the real challenge for any social network is (or even API) is to have a real anti spam mechanism and allow an amazing response for any virus/spam or other BS.Good luck !!!

    1. fredwilson

      you are so right about spam.

  2. JamesHRH

    You are soooo right about it being geeky.I still am not sure that this will gain traction, as I do not see the inherent value to existing large networks.Why would I share my audience?The commercial value to open email for a cable or telco provider (15 years ago) was increased usage. Twit usage is a threat to FB etc., as there is only so much attention to go aruond (even if the pie is grown).

    1. Bruce Warila

      Dalton comes from a music/tech background. I have seen the music industry push 100MM fans into five different platforms over the last ten years (MySpace to Twitter to Facebook). I wouldn’t be surprised to see that happen here. Lots of musicians are also geeks πŸ™‚

      1. JamesHRH

        That’s music marketing.Music is now on very few platforms: iTunes, …….


    Well, I had a nice response for you. But, Disqus is just sitting there showing some moving dots…

    1. fredwilson

      Hmm. I am sorry


        It’s not your fault. It’s a transient error. It happens at various times on various sites. But, I can’t see any pattern to it. The only recurring thing that I can see is the Disqus drop-down boxes appear in the wrong position. Then some responses don’t post. Oh well, computers, what can ya’ do?


        BTW, how’s the AVC redevelopment project going? I haven’t seen any mention of it hear since you were looking for a developer.I’ve been so deep in development myself that I’m a bit out of touch.

        1. fredwilson

          Its USV redevelopment and its going well

          1. Matt A. Myers

            Was Grimmy available for it?

          2. fredwilson


          3. Matt A. Myers

            I would have enjoyed seeing how he’d interpret it. It will be neat to see what it becomes regardless. πŸ™‚

  4. RichardF

    I like what webfinger is trying to do. SMTP is there as an open standard. Everyone has one (probably 10 ) email addresses. Build on that don’t try and reinvent the wheel

  5. kidmercury

    open is a very deceiving word. i confess to formerly liking it but it now is void of any meaning and is simply an emotional or moral plea, perhaps on dubious grounds.i think major platforms will evolve into their own internet and will have their own protocols as a result. i suspect many platforms will choose to share or partially share protocols, so as to facilitate developer involvement and reduce costs all around. i think android has the potential to be something that fits into this worldview and drives it to a fuller realization.

    1. markslater

      how did that open API / developer evangelist ruse work out for those who built on top of twitter? careful who you build on top of.



      2. Kirsten Lambertsen

        Feelin’ that.

    2. Michael Elling

      Google is building the new communications stack in the wired and wireless worlds. Most access will be free and open. Bandwidth is 20-150x more expensive than it should be.

      1. kidmercury

        what does open mean?

        1. Michael Elling

          Economic wholesale to 3rd party resellers, VARs and app providers. Something we had in the 1980s and 1990s. That died in the early 2000s as we killed equal access. Wholesale was something Google fought for and got with the wireless auctions in 2007, but it was a hollow victory. Droid has been the better path on the wireless front.

          1. kidmercury

            so suppose a reseller is unscrupulous and wants to sell something “open” with some malware installed on it that monitors keystrokes, derives credit card info, and uses this to engage in credit card fraud and identity theft. that is the kind of thing that total openness allows, right?

          2. Michael Elling

            In its extreme, possibly.I think there will be exchanges developed by layer that lead to balanced settlement solutions on either side of the session. Policies of enforcement and standards are included in those settlements. Vertically complete solutions are tailored across these layers by those who fulfill end-user demand. Centralized hierarchical networks.

          3. kidmercury

            so then presumably total openness is not advantageous, and rather what is advantageous is a quality judgment. this is why i find the “open services are good” ideology to be a bit misleading and incomplete.i think companies will take open services/protocols and build filters on top of them, as well as tightly integrate them with other services/protocols so as to create a better user experience. this is a form of closedness that leverages an open foundation.


    This sucks… I have to re-enter this stuff…What we need is some *real* innovation on the web. Not just another social site that pulls together various 10 year old technology into one site. Falicon was talking about this a bit on his blog.

  7. mike

    But e-mail has gone backward; people don’t use SMTP et al. They use gmail; when you send an e-mail, it has a high likelihood of never leaving google’s server farm. I would rework your premise to, ‘we need to re-introduce the peer-based Internet we started with, instead of nose-diving back toward the AOL/web portal model’

    1. Luke Chamberlin

      You wouldn’t have gmail on your phone or desktop mail app without IMAP or SMTP – and people use those.

  8. D Sushant

    Its interesting that VC’s are rooting for open platforms even though this may be detrimental to their interests (which I suppose are best served via proprietary platforms). Am wondering if smart money is relying on industrial era investment methodologies while evaluating web based businesses and if there is a case for a fundamental change in their approach.

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t think closed platforms are good for innovation and innovation is the VC business

      1. D Sushant

        Do you think the ROI would be significantly different for business models based on closed vs open platforms? Would Github’s valuation be higher if it adopted Facebook’s business model?

        1. fredwilson

          That’s a harder question to answer but I don’t think at the company level. I think at the market level. Because open markets create more opportunity than closed markets

          1. D Sushant

            Thanks for explaining, Fred. I guess innovation and opportunity are an instance of correlation implying causation.

          2. D Sushant

            I was able to correlate your comments with USV’s investment thesis – here’s my post connecting the dots:

          3. fredwilson

            Nice post. You can read more about our investment strategy at

          4. D Sushant

            Thanks, Fred – appreciate your taking the time to read it.

    2. Shawn Cohen

      Steven Johnson makes a good case for open in his book Where Good Ideas Come From

    3. Matt A. Myers

      It’s only bad for investors investing in things that won’t last or be sustainable once the transition fully occurs.Smart money vs. stupid money.Predicting 10-20 years into the future isn’t really that easy though, nor is how to navigate and make yourself be ahead of competition once it comes to that.

    4. Cam MacRae

      Nearly all the VCs I know have a Schumpeterian hue and Fred is no different. When you’re making bets on innovation and diffusion you’re bound to prefer open platforms.

      1. fredwilson


  9. reece

    while it’s not a threat to Twitter etc, i’ve heard arguments for Twitter being an open protocoland when i think about it, i do want Twitter – as a communication medium – to ‘just exist’

    1. Nate Kidwell

      Heard that as well and completely agree. Though I personally keep my offline life offline, it is amazing to see Twitter’s expansion.Almost everbody’s bio-link is their twitter handle these days. And even though Twitter clones can be hacked up in a weekend, I don’t see anybody beating them unless they had all the celebrities behind them (sports/movies/music/politics).But open, closed, whatever, twitter is oxygen to much of the world.

    2. William Mougayar

      You’re right. is not a threat to Twitter.

    3. Kirsten Lambertsen

      It would be nice if Twitter would “think” like WordPress (Automattic).

      1. ShanaC

        how would that work from a monetary pov – it could have happened years ago, but now?

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Twitter should ask Matt Mullenweg to consult with them on that ;)Automattic has launched its own paid services that work with WordPress, and they have their VIP service where they host and maintain WordPress implementations for some of the biggest names out there (like Washington Post, for example).It just seems like Twitter could be innovative enough to create its own paid services that would be valuable to customers who can afford it and therefore avoid eating its young. They have made acquisitions that could serve this purpose. And, data! Do something with that and sell it.It feels like they’ve stopped innovating and are now just trying to nail jelly to a wall.

          1. fredwilson

            i think it is WP that has stopped innovating. and they are impossible to work with to boot.

          2. LE

            “impossible to work with”. has capitalized on that fact (used by foursquare and soundcloud)That said they are wet behind the ears when it comes to snapping up sales opportunities (based on my personal experience).

          3. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Since your insight into both companies trumps mine (by a lot), I have something to think about now.Maybe I’m just caught up in the drama. So far my experience as a Twitter developer has been great. If they really are thinking about pulling up the draw bridge, tell them not to πŸ™‚ We’ll survive if they do, but I think it would be short-sighted.

          4. fredwilson

            They are not pulling up the drawbridge. They are doing what they should have done three years ago. They are showing the world where their business interests are and where they are not

      2. fredwilson

        Oh god no

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Pithy πŸ™‚ I just mean in terms of striving to keep the basic platform open – do you disagree with that part?

          1. fredwilson

   is closed like a jail cell

          2. Kirsten Lambertsen

            Ya, I see your point. I was thinking about the install. I guess because Mullenweg is such a vocal proponent of open source, and claims to have stayed loyal to that ethos, that I think of WordPress as a leader in that regard.

      3. Techman

        Why on Earth would you think that? is like a closed jailhouse like @fredwilson:disqus said. Unless you were talking about the self hosted WordPress.

        1. Kirsten Lambertsen

          Yes, I was thinking about the self-hosted WP. That’s really what I think of first, when I think of WP.

  10. @FakeBradFeld

    Fred, How does your belief in “open” with the popularity of Apple’s “closed” approach? By the way, I love AAPL and apple pie.

    1. fredwilson

      I am not a fan of apples closed approach

      1. Matt A. Myers

        It’ll be interesting to see if Apple can continue to enter new markets to maintain dominance in different sectors, meanwhile Google developing for what people will be doing and using 20-50+ years from now and trying to reach the 80% – which will eventually lead to quality products that the top 20% can and will want to use too.Got my Nexus btw — loving it. Installed Tawkon too – though it reminds me of how little I really use my phone for voice communication. πŸ˜› It’ll be great to design UX for once I get to that though.

  11. Luke Chamberlin

    This is what G+ should be – a gmail-quality interface to an open social standard.

    1. William Mougayar

      That would be a departure from its current trajectory.

      1. Luke Chamberlin

        Definitely. Not saying I think it will happen.

  12. Matt A. Myers

    What is “any time soon” anyway? Relative? 1 year online is a 5-10 years IRL for product development. And then 2-3 years for old dinosaurs online to collapse (20-30+ years IRL).Clearly the troops are ready to rally, with the showing the support of, through emotional heart-string plucking – not bad, though lots of hyperbole which doesn’t feel so genuine.I pledged for it – still waiting for my alpha login. I think it would be naive and stupid of me not to have considering I am develop web products that I want to guide to integrate with whatever will exist; I suspect this is what many of the 11,000+ contributors are, people with some form of vested interest along with curiosity, speculating, and observing what will happen.Any development for any product that has hooks moves us closer anyway, as re-integration with other central hubs, or de-centralization, is only a matter of relative moments to update and re-release.


      Hey, are you working on something in stealth mode? I asked you on your blog a month ago but no answer.

      1. Matt A. Myers



          Cool, I hope it goes well for you.

          1. Matt A. Myers

            Thank you. Making some big moves / changes soon.

  13. William Mougayar

    “The good thing about standards…is that there are so many of them to choose from.” That was true in 1987 when I first heard that statement (as I was involved in an IEEE standard), and is still true in 2012.It’s correct that the social networks don’t talk to each other, to the chagrin of users like us. But I don’t expect them to do it from their own will. The standards need adoption for them to become meaningful. That’s why sometimes de-facto standards become prevalent just because they are adopted, not because they are a superior piece of well documented technology protocol.We looked at Salmon not too long ago. It’s like a Pubhubsubbup for comments, and it could act as as universal release valve for content that is agnostic to its origin, but we have not seen wide nor mild adoption yet. Here’s a lingering WP plugin that has been downloaded a mere 424 times.… Even its Google Group site has last been updated on May 28th….Salmon make a lot of sense if it were adopted widely. It would certainly facilitate API integration efforts, but we are not waiting for it. We have already integrated 15 APIs and more coming, giving the user the same seamless experience as what a Gmail client gives.That said, we’ve also supported at the developer level and it’s great to see the potential innovation it will generate as witnessed by this good list of 3rd party Apps that have already emergedΒ…

    1. falicon

      How do you plan to cover the API usage fees if/when you integrate into Engagio?Do you think that if you try pass the costs through to the users, they will just opt to not have access?I know personally as a user, there is no way that I’m going to pay for AND apps on top of it (at this stage)…which to me, means is eventually going to have to make 99% of it’s money from developers and companies that use the API…and then many of them are going to struggle with the challenge of having to offer up ‘free to users social services’ built on top of a backbone they have to pay for…Somewhat related: I have also been closely following the efforts (that I honestly believe have been trying to do much the same thing as is now trying to do), and this has always been my challenge with their approach as well…if everyone wants a slice of the pie, and end users have the freedom/choice to refuse to pay, it’s the small developers that end up getting screwed and go broke just trying to build something interesting and useful…I would love to use engagio to interact with people on, but I wouldn’t pay for that ability (I would choose instead to just engage with those I can reach for free — and I think that’s going to be the challenge for any app that builds on

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I’m with you. I was immediately perplexed by their pay model. Seems in conflict with open.

      2. William Mougayar

        These are great questions, but honestly I haven’t even thought about answering them yet. We just want to toy with their API first to better understand what’s possible, and we’ll see what we learn and if it’s worth pursuing or not.Singly is interesting- I wonder what their traction has been like.

    2. ShanaC

      pubhubsubbup is supported internally on though…

      1. William Mougayar

        Yes but that’s for RSS, not for social content/activity streams which is most of what we are talking about.

    3. JamesHRH

      Your opening line is an absolute, undying classic.Engineers being geeky equals standards a plenty.

      1. William Mougayar

        πŸ™‚ was true then, and is true now.

  14. Nate Kidwell

    The sockjs protocol (… ) for websocket fallbacks is doing everything right (vmware project). It basically enables realtime applications in all browsers, even those that don’t support websockets,It has a rigidly defined protocol/test suite that people are working hard to support across the spectrum of programming languages. There have been other attempts at this problem (most notably but this is the first time it is done is such a formalized and community-embracing way.And vmware proves once again why it is second only to google in “moving the ball forward”.

  15. mikekelly85

    In my opinion, the solution to this problem is a distributed (eco)system driven by hypertext. Hypertext is the most effective way we know of for establishing anarchic, planetary-scale systems with the level of evolvability necessary to survive long term, e.g. the HTML-driven web.Users should have the freedom to choose from where and how their identity is exposed, whether that is on a machine in their front-room running software they’ve written themselves or on a SaaS offering like think that hypertext protocol will eventually emerge but, looking at their current API spec, I don’t think that will be it.

  16. Sean Black

    Fred, isn’t it a conflict of interest for you to invest in as an investor in Twitter and, to a lesser extent, Tumblr?

    1. Cam MacRae

      Invest, or subscribed for a year?

      1. Sean Black

        You are probably right Cam. I read “backed” as invested, but likely he meant backed on Kickstarter. Thx

    2. LE

      “which I backed along with many others”Yeah I also wanted to point out to @fredwilson:disqus that at first take it looked like a USV and/or angel investment when that is clearly not the case. It was ambiguous.

      1. fredwilson

        oy. that is bad. sorry about that.

    3. fredwilson

      I didn’t invest in it. I backed it. Just like everyone else did

  17. LIAD

    I clearly haven’t grokked the intricacies of what’s really going on. To me it looks like the emperors new clothes/anti-TwitFace circle jerk.

    1. falicon

      The supporters are saying it’s more like “Amazon Web Services for social data”…that is, it’s going to be the service layer/hub (and standard data formats) that allow the next generation of web apps to cross communicate and quickly/easily add-on social features.The detractors are saying it’s just another attempt at a Twitter clone (that you have to pay for).Personally I think it’s a bit of both…I believe it’s feeding the important conversation that needs to continue in order for the next generation of innovation to occur but I do not believe it will actually become the ‘aws of social services’.I have not backed it yet, and am likely to wait quite a while before I do (though there is quite a bit of low hanging fruit for developers that do jump into the action right now if they are not focused on something else already [I am] — which is why I think in the short term it’s going to appear to be killing it…and then, suddenly, it won’t)

      1. Cam MacRae

        I paid a $50 tax to secure my username.

        1. falicon

          I think a lot of people did that…but how many years will you continue to pay that tax?Personally – I’ll just rebrand if I *have* to when it finally makes sense to get on board with … I already spend *way* too much money year after year carrying mostly dead-weight domain names that I have ideas for or just don’t want to lose…I’m not going to go down the same path with social network usernames πŸ˜‰

          1. Cam MacRae

            That depends entirely on them.

          2. LE

            “I already spend *way* too much money year after year carrying mostly dead-weight domain names that I have ideas for or just don’t want to lose…”The domain business survives based upon people who get into that manic phase and register domains for an idea that they have.Everyone does that. The key of course is to try and sell the names you register to someone else that will use it and make some money. Or donate to charity and take a take deduction (yes it can be done..)One thing I will tell you though. I’ve had domains that customers have registered that they didn’t want to renew [1]. So they said we could have the domain. We were then able to sell those names, many times for real money. So before you decide not to renew a domain you might want to run it by me.[1] One example was a name for a law firm that went out of business. The domain was similar to “(surname)”. A few years later another “(surname)” came along and bought that domain for $3800. Another was “(nauticalsounding)” not even a short name. That sold for $3500.

      2. ShanaC

        which direction do you think it is more likely to go in?

        1. falicon

          For the near future it’s going to head hard and quick down the ‘twitter clone’ path…Because the easiest thing for the developers that are jumping in to gain attention/traction with is to just copy the early/big successes they saw in Twitter (so there will be many ‘summize’ efforts, many ‘tweetdeck’ efforts, many ‘tweetie’ efforts, many ‘twitterpic’ efforts, many ‘’ efforts, etc. etc. etc.)…and in fact if you check out the list of ‘in-progress’ apps everyone is hyping right now, you will notice that this is *exactly* what they all are…Long term…if enough engagement sticks around…I think it could shift into more of a ‘aws for social data’ situation…but I think it’s a very big uphill battle at this point (it’s got to 1st break through the twitter clone phase, and then it’s got to prove enough value on it’s own to warent time/money investment from developers of *new* apps and ideas to integrate/push the agenda as well).The chicken-egg problem that has right now is that they need a killer app that you can only experience/get with to bring the mass of ‘regulars’…and without the regulars, there is very little incentive for investing in building a killer app on top of (that’s the magic that Twitter hit on, they *were* the killer app first…they got gobs-o-quality users from that…and then the API opened the flood gates, with built-in incentive, to investing in building lots more killer apps around it all).At the end of the day, even if we open standards and all these different services, companies, and apps can talk to each other…what does that really give us? What’s the advantage to the average person on the street compared to what they already have/know/get?Someone has to have a vision and an idea of what ‘functionality’ we are actually missing in today’s world…what pain we are just dealing with or hiding without even knowing it…and then build a solution towards that…that’s where the true inovation is waiting.Everything else is really just academic and utopian debate…that won’t fundamentally change anything we can or are actually already doing…

          1. ShanaC

            one of the things twitter could have been was just an open api – how about that as an option?

          2. falicon

            I’m clearly in the minority here, but I actually do view them still as an open api option…my question to everyone that complains they are not is, “how are they not?”Almost all of my services allow users to create accounts just by auth’ing with Twitter or Facebook (so you’ve got your universal/open identity right there)…and I can still use twitter (or facebook) to have my services actively communicate with it’s users if I so choose (and I can go even further to the point of using Twitter to be a messaging system behind the scenes of an app if I really wanted to).Twitter requesting that I don’t republish tweets or redefine the twitter experience within my own app is not that troublesome for me…if users want to experience twitter, they can go to twitter…and twitter needing/wanting to push advertising and rich media is also not that troubling for any apps I want to build and integrate with twitter (because ultimately it’s a better experience for users or at the very least is subsidizing the experience for the user).As a developer, I look to cheat off Twitter (or Facebook) by using them to lower the barrier to entry with my own stuff…no more setting up accounts, no more struggling to finding friends, no more time wasted developing new following code or messaging systems…what I don’t look to do is try to steal their audience or hurt their own user experience (because ultimately that’s a no-win for everyone case).I get all of that, at massive scale, for FREE thanks to the subsidy of advertising that Twitter is focusing on.Honestly, I’m not sure how any system could be more open (and still afford to remain in business)…they have to make a profit somewhere if they want to stick around, and I for one am happy that it’s not directly from my pocket (because they aren’t deep enough to cover the scale and depth that I want/get out of Twitter)…If it means finding profit in some of the paths that others carved out of the Twitter ecosystem, then that’s a shame but it’s also fair…just like in any large scale ecosystem or society, the needs of the many must outweigh the desires of the few…p.s. Sorry for my novels today…I haven’t had enough time to write shorter, more thoughtful, comments πŸ˜‰

          3. Dave Pinsen

            No apology necessary, this was a good read.

          4. John Revay

            Ditto – good & interesting read

          5. Drew Meyers

            “I for one am happy that it’s not directly from my pocket”I get where you are coming from — but curious why you don’t see enough value to pay from your own pocket? What about if they shut off ads and gave you ownership of your data? How much is not seeing any ads worth to you? Surely, it’s worth something?

          6. falicon

            the volume and quality of ads does not yet disrupt my Twitter experience enough to bother me at all.I already own my own data…I put what I want to share with the public into the system…plus as a dev I have advantage of knowing how to get my data via the api if I really wanted it (but there is currently no value to me in having my own data exhaust — what can you do with it? why do you need it?)the deeper conversations/thoughts that I want to have ownership over go into my blog…the deepere conversations that I want to be able to find and refence over time go into …at the moment that’s more than enough for me…disclaimer: the stuff I built awhile back actually did use your individual data exhaust to make it’s recomendations…it worked quite well…but it was all pulled from Twitter api (via user auth) and never required a user to enter, upload, or directly train the system (reg people just want stuff to work, they don’t want to be invovled in making it work and they don’t care how it works…just that it does)

          7. ShanaC

            I’m ok with novels. I guess the question I am asking is largely can you really separate out open api from social network. Just because oauth exists doesn’t mean it is an open api – just an open identity.

          8. falicon

            Depends on your def. of open I guess…nothing is truly open…no more so than anyone has true freedom…perception of the participent is the key…

          9. scott_mcleod

            I have the vision, and idea of what the average consumers need, and understand what developers/entrepreneurs want when building a new service.Ultimately the future of social technology if executed correctly, will and should provide a channel for accelerated creation, collaboration, innovation, and education.Follow me for whats coming in September.. Being Collective πŸ™‚

      3. Donna Brewington White

        Just stumbled across your blog post from 8/2 on this subject (via Engagio, of course). Not only well written and thought out, but compelling.

        1. falicon

          Hey thanks…of course when I wrote that they were *way* off the funding goal…so I’m already wrong about that part…chances are good that I’ll be wrong about much of the rest of it too… πŸ˜‰

  18. Hayden Williams

    I love the idea of getting social (and professional) networking to be as open as email…But, as the volume increases I would imagine a concern is not just the increasing amount of spam (as was already noted) but determining how to efficiently filter through messages to find the ones you’d like to respond to. Some sort of SEO for email and social/professional networking messages could be helpful, that would rank, elevate or at least bucket certain messages.I’m not sure the best way to do this, just know it isn’t the paid style of messages some sites require to reach people outside your network.

    1. ShanaC

      would you really want your contacts gaming you for your time/energy (in reference to the seo comment)

      1. Hayden Williams

        No, that is a valid concern but I would think that could be mitigated if I’m controlling the levers that drive the rankings, and importantly those levers aren’t broadcast. So, maybe I like hearing from people from my school while someone else always wants to elevate referrals from a few trusted contacts

        1. ShanaC

          I get the feeling that those levers can change very rapidly because people broadcast all sorts of things, whether verbally or not verbally. Also, I find that largely who I want to talk to is very situational.

  19. andyswan

    Am I wrong or is this just the geek version of utopian fantasy ranting?”Diaspora,, open this open that” meanwhile Apple, Twitter, Facebook and Google keep kicking people in the nuts.Standards evolve on their own, through market dominance over time….not cheerleading or central planning.I understand why VCs like Albert and Fred spend time thinking, writing and discussing this stuff….but PROTIP for entrepreneurs: don’t.

    1. William Mougayar

      Are you addressing this to entrepreneurs that are developers? Then, that’s not correct. All new things start small, shapeless and immature, then they has the promise of being an open playground of innovation for developers. It’s what its developers ecosystem will do with it that will determine how it evolves and starts to touch regular users like you and others. There’s an interesting list of 3rd party Apps that are going to be working with it

      1. andyswan

        I am also addressing entrepreneur-developers. I’m not advising to avoid looking at new technologies/platforms/ecosystems….but I am advising that looking at them through the lens of the “greater good” of the internet is self-defeating and a complete waste of time.Nothing wrong with placing bets on new waves….just don’t let religion into the evaluation πŸ™‚

        1. Anthony Ortenzi

          The “greater good” will always be disputed between those who want to squelch unwanted noise to maintain signal and marketers.

        2. LE

          “that looking at them through the lens of the “greater good” of the internet is self-defeating and a complete waste of time.”Shh. The more time people spend wasting efforts and attention on the wrong thing the less competition they are for those that don’t. To me it sounds like a fine plan.

        3. William Mougayar

          We’re going to poke at it without any expectations. It’s just one of several things. I’m not placing bets on it. It’s not a do or die kind of thing. It’s a tag along or ignore decision.

        4. raycote

          It seems to me that the statistical-selection-gradients that operate to shape any community’s shared vision/values/memes of the “greater good” is simply an instantiation of your basic statistically-emergent, market-driven, toured-de-force and as such is no less valid than a corporate-driven profit-centered instantiation of that same marketplace dynamic.Its a two mints in one situation.Corporations compete in a very granular marketplace for short term institutional profits. This is analogous to the simpler cellular-level instantiation of that marketplace dynamic.That marketplace dynamic is scalable.Communities compete in a larger aggregate marketplace for long term collective-profits. Collective-profits being defined as systemic social stability as well as the collective-profit embodied in a decent well distributed and sustainable standard of living for all the community’s members .This is analogous to the more organically-complex organism-level instantiation of that same marketplace dynamic.Cells, organisms, communities and nation-states all operate within that same competitive marketplace dynamic. These entities are simply instantiations operating at different levels of granularity and it is probably important for us to operationalize which class attributes are common and which are unique to each level of granularity.As in any organically-complex reality stack there is, on the ground, in the flesh, an immense amount of level mixed feedback/feedforward going on between these marketplace-dynamic instantiation levels. Still for the purpose of reducing these organically-intertwined marketplace instantiations to a sharable map or model for the purpose of collaborative visualization it is important to recognize them as separate yet equally valid instantiation of that same generic marketplace dynamic.Dismissal of that fact is not an option. It is a cull-de-sac. It is a dead end?I’m not a particularly religious man but it seems to me there is, for better or worse, always some element of religious fervour that surounds the history of visionary social movements. Especially those that stand the test of time in the marketplace for social organization. Perhaps such religious fervour serves the function of social-meme persistence in an otherwise high signal-to-noise environment dominated by evolutionary mechanisms that are biased towards individual-survival as their biological prime directive?To scale up, to transcend that individualistically biased biological-survival hull-speed limitation, to jump the gap, almost demands that some form of collectively abstract, cognitive, self-referential, strange-loop-introspection be brought to bear in order to evolve any possible mechanisms that inherently define and support a community-centered survival-bias.Effectively dovetailing and micro managing such a cognitive-artifact driven community-centered survival-bias with its more fundamental underlying biologically driven individual-centered survival-bias is a very tall order indeed. ( now that is the mother of all substrate-undertows!)It seems to me that collaborative visionary abstraction is our only ticket, our only booster rocket to that next level, to that next platform of network-organized community-biased-survival.We are the Borg! We and only we can decide on how we will assimilate ourselves into a best fit tipping point between the collective and the individual.The plague of complex organic abstraction is upon us. There is no turning back. There is no point waiting for Godot!

      2. Aviah Laor

        +100. This is the core issue. The user just posts a status. She does not care if the protocol is “Open”. The developer cares, and if the user would know what she misses because of that maybe she would care too.I supported Assuming they will secure subscription revenues for their service, the big question remains: can they create a similar model, a revenue stream for an eco-system, for the “developers tier” (who until now had to pay more for the service)?

    2. Kirsten Lambertsen

      “Standards evolve on their own, through market dominance over time….not cheerleading or central planning.”I respectfully disagree. I think evangelizing and cheerleading can have plenty do to with the success or failure of a standard. Along with a whole bunch of other unpredictable things.

      1. andyswan

        I think you’re right. Maybe I should say “cheer all you want but when push comes to shove…do what’s right for YOUR business”

        1. LE

          “”cheer all you want but when push comes to shove…do what’s right for YOUR business”””Cheer all you want” is practiced by the candlelight vigil crowd.If people were interested in doing what was right for their business they would spend more time on their business and not worrying about things outside their business until they were secure and had the free time to do so.It is of course Fred’s business to do what he is doing.

          1. andyswan


          2. Aviah Laor

            Unfortunately, once a company becomes large enough it can win not by playing better, but by changing the rules (and lobbing the referee)

        2. raycote

          “cheer all you want but when push comes to shove…do what’s right for YOUR business”Does that include the citizenry doing what is right for the business of their collective financial/social interests by demanding open standard?Unfortunately the average internet user has not yet had enough experience to effectively frame the transaction costs/benefits associated with such technical “rule of law” protocol abstractions.And by the time they become aware of their digital serfdom it will be all but too late.Maybe with enough cheering more people will start paying attention and demand a public-access based digital road system.

    3. ShanaC

      Nope.I would say that depends on the industry. medtech is dying for open standards, in part because of government pushes in that direction. And one of the reasons Apple developed a cult was because of their posix compliance….

    4. JLM

      .Great point. You have to have a good game underway and good teams in play to be able to develop standards from a basis of success.What is working now and why?I am always persuaded that if FB has 900MM — or pick your favorite number — folks, then that is not a bad place to start.But I am not opposed to a spot of cheerleading as long as you are cheering the league leaders..

      1. falicon

        We are bred to cheer the underdog…but inclined to bet on the league leader…

    5. hypermark

      So totally agree. You know the quip about standards. There are so many to choose from.That’s not to say that standards bodies don’t serve a purpose. They obviously do, but the general flow of these things is to solve a problem first, and THEN look for areas where embracing a standard can solve a problem for you, or allow you to plug into a broader ecosystem.In other words, more often than not, standards are the forking point between plumbing (HTTP service) and integrated systems (Facebook or Twitter).

    6. Aviah Laor

      Isn’t this a nice geek version of utopian fantasy? “I’m doing a (free) operating system …just a hobby, won’t be big and professional … I’d like any feedback on things people like/dislike…”ref:

    7. fredwilson


    8. dave

      You’re absolutely right about that.I saw so many attempts by techies who thought they knew better than users try to reinvent RSS, yet the format that was adopted by the publishing industry kept chugging along. When the NY Times supported RSS, that was game-over time for the also-rans. But they *still* didn’t get the message, and thought they could have a standards body overrule the users. Again, it didn’t happen.The tech industry has a huge ego problem, they can’t accept that the users might ever want to go somewhere they didn’t think of first. So much energy is wasted this way.The protocols Fred lists in his piece are all reinventions of problems the Internet has already solved. That’s why they’re having so much trouble getting traction. In this case the protagonist is Google, which is playing the role that Microsoft used to play.

  20. William Mougayar

    The difference between Twitter and is that will be defined by its ecosystem (if it succeeds), whereas Twitter is defined by itself.

    1. awaldstein

      The difference between and Twitter is that one is a business.By definition what is good for everyone is not necessarily what is good for you business.

      1. falicon

        I would argue that one is a ‘lifestyle’ business…the other is a ‘media’ business…

        1. awaldstein

          Good one…This will not be the first conversation of the day on the difference between a ‘business’ and a ‘lifestyle’ business.I think I”m going to reject the distinction for now. Is a restaurant a lifestyle biz? Sure maybe unless it’s the Shake Shack. Was LuLuLemon conceived of as a generational defining brand? Unlikely.We can go on and one over this.

          1. falicon

            The difference is that with a restaurant, you are developing a formula for success…once you’ve got that, if you chose to break out of the ‘lifestyle mode’, you package and repeat the formula…you expand into other markets and marginalize your costs…there is always room for growth and new possibilities/extensions for the brand.With a paid platform play, I don’t see a repeatable formula developing or a lot of opportunities for brand expansion…you basically have one path to growth, selling access to more users/companies (and in this case, anything more and you directly go against your core identifying statement/mission/purpose). This means it’s absolutely a finite market (though possibly still a *very* profitable market).I could be way off on my thinking here (I often feel like I lose debates on what is or isn’t a lifestyle business)…but my personal definition revolves around ‘defining a repeatable formula that allows for unlimited expansion’…and I think that definition allows for starting as a lifestyle business and evolving beyond…How do you define or identify ‘lifestyle’ business?

          2. awaldstein

            My guess is that from an investor’s perspective it’s a matter of the multiple on a return.When you invest in a restaurant or a niche product company that is a passion of yours, you might be thinking a 3X return is acceptable. That might fall in the realm of ‘lifestyle’.I can’t believe that anyone invests in a local restaurant with the expectation that the return might be 10X.I can’t think of how to quantify this in any other way actually.

          3. Cam MacRae

            Unlimited expansion, eh? A repeatable formula that scales, perhaps. (Although it’s good to have ambition.)

          4. falicon

            heh…well at least the impression of unlimited expansion and options…it’s all about options… πŸ˜‰

          5. Drew Meyers

            A business in which money isn’t the primary driver of decisions?

  21. Jake Cohen

    I think that’s the big payoff for one of the derivative social services that span across the top of several social platforms – the challenge here is meaningful organization of contacts/relationships and effective communication mechanisms to connect with people. The platforms that connect people are not really intimate enough to predict type of relationship (e.g. I have some friends on LinkedIn and some work contacts on Facebook) and it isn’t yet clear what combinations of social connections mean…this is a HUGE nut to crack and is far off from working without user intervention via tagging.

    1. ShanaC

      Basically you are looking for a better address book. Why though?

  22. Mike Kijewski

    I couldn’t agree with this more. Although Facebook may see a network of networks linked by open protocols as a threat, they would be better off embracing a paradigm like the one described and competing on superior function rather than sitting and waiting for the next “Facebook” to come along and de-throne them.

  23. spektor

    IMHO, the social networking “singularity” would come when all of the independent nation-states that are social networks would join into one social networking world. However, there are too many obstacles still in the way. The various networks such as Facebook and Google+ would be relegated to the role of producing a mere client rather than controlling a social network. Users would be thrown into the spotlight where their personal and professional lives would publicly collide. The biggest hurdle, in my estimation, is that we have not yet figured out what exactly is a social network. What are it’s capabilities and functions. Once the majority agrees on a definition it will be more likely that this “utopia” will come to pass.

    1. ShanaC

      I think we need to talk about whether utopia online is even possible. Or are there too many perspectives on an ideal way of life to form a unified culture to make a difference

  24. Dave W Baldwin

    Maybe I don’t understand what you mean by social/open…but it follows what I drew out a couple of years back, a section of the bigger platform named SpeakEasy. As the NL/KW/DM gets more ‘intelligent’, a person should be able to give easy command/desire/question (oral) and gain what others are saying. This forum has been thru this based on the VA popping up with the top 3 news items based on the user’s desires.The problem is the multiple OS issues where closed vs. open diminish the participating audience… unless the audience finally votes with their pocket book.

  25. Kirsten Lambertsen

    I have a startup that relies on access to Twitter, Facebook, G+ etc. APIs. This is a topic near and dear to our hearts.We’re waiting to see what’s coming next from Twitter, given what they’ve been telegraphing on their blog, planning for how we’ll react if/when Twitter slams the door on us. I worry that instead of figuring out how they can evolve in harmony with the ecosystem they’ve spawned, they’ll cannibalize it.Meanwhile, it seems like a protocol for communicating to aggregator/excerpting services like ours (like RebelMouse,, in detail would be good for everyone. Right now that information is often spread across various locations.

    1. William Mougayar

      We’ll need to meet next time I’m in NYC. I will ping you πŸ˜‰

      1. Kirsten Lambertsen

        I really look forward to that πŸ™‚ I’ll be in Providence through Nov as part of the Fall Betaspring class (yay!). So actually, if you’re in Boston any time soon, that could be easy. Or, you know, if you want to come meet the Betaspring crowd, I know they’d love that.

        1. William Mougayar

          Interesting. I’ll send you an internal message from engagio and we can carry on that way. thanks.

  26. Leigh Drogen

    This should have been Twitter, an open communications protocol, allow anyone to build on top of that protocol like the telephone, and Twitter would have owned the data. Instead we get them trying to control the whole thing and become a media company which retards the whole ecosystem.Sad.

  27. Abdallah Al-Hakim

    From my understanding, one of the reasons that came into being because twitter couldn’t generate revenues other than advertising. Yesterday, I read a terrific article about Chinese social network Tencent titled “How China’s giant Tencent makes users pay”. It challenges the notion that users will not pay for social networks and gives some examples of how Tencent accomplished this. Perhaps there are some lessons for twitter and other north american based social network. Here is the link to the article

  28. ntoll

    Fred, there are lots of geeks (like me) who care passionately about a decentralised / federated solution. It takes time and we’re working on it.I have a question for you (and little direct experience of the VC world so apologies in advance if I’m missing the blindingly obvious):If this is a case of building free/open infrastructure how should developers pitch projects in this space in order to get funding from guys like you and Albert?There’s no product per-se that users may end up paying for, nor is there a central point with which to impose, say, advertising (obviously). There may be new technology upon which others can build great companies and products (a la the web) but, because of the nature of the problem, I guess a far more likely result would be a glorious failure (but I guess that goes with the VC territory too).Would you have invested in SMTP..?Thanks,Nicholas.

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t think we can invest in protocols. there needs to be a commercial service for us to invest.



      2. gbattle

        Precisely. You can’t invest in open protocols because they are ideas, not implementations. SMTP, HTTP, XMPP are all data exchange definitions that have nothing to do with the particulars of execution. For instance, anyone can write an email client because the SMTP protocol definition is clear on the data handshake particulars, but nowhere does it say it must use a particular API or programming language.

  29. maxmzd

    Looking at successful protocols in widespread use, most are open, decentralized, and share-alike. Albert’s suggestion of an email like protocol for social networking is exactly how I see this working, except extended to all data. The key is making the protocol extremely simple by boiling down the common characteristics of data. I typed up a white paper on a potential approach called Palmetto:

  30. LE

    Fred: “All of this is geeky and only interesting to a tiny minority of web users.”It’s amazing how much publicity has received given that the basic concept is so difficult to parse for non developers. This is like a dutch tulip effect. If enough people show interest the project takes on a life of it’s own w/o regard for whether there is any value behind it. (Of course I can’t predict the future and the prophecy could also be self-fullfilling.)Quotes from” is a different kind of social platform.””a real-time social service””advertising-supported social services are so consistently and inextricably at odds””you’ll have a new social graph””we will focus on expanding our core experience by nurturing a powerful ecosystem”and so on.In short there is no short easy description of exactly what the value is to a typical end user who might interact with app.netI understand that they are tilting toward developers at this stage. But they are losing out on potential press which could spread and get the involvement and interest of an entire world of regular people. Might be because they don’t have it figured out yet and want it to morph into something or might be they just have poor communication skills.They are solving a problem that doesn’t appear on the radar for “regulars” for a need that is currently being provided by others. (Now refer back to the last sentence of my first paragraph…)

  31. Jono

    Testing guest commenting

  32. William Wagner

    It’s funny because every startup out there puts out some “open” API… never seen one come up with a real open protocol. A protocol can have infinite APIs built around it, it’s a medium of communication, not a software platform. A good example of a protocol that needs refurbishing is ACH for domestic money transfers. A site like WePay or Dwolla implements ACH that is somewhat accessible over an API but there is still no protocol to replace ACH transactions; that would have to be implemented by all the NACHA member banks. How do you bring a new protocol to the likes of BoA and JPMC?

    1. fredwilson

      Dwolla is seeking to replace ACH

      1. William Wagner

        Dwolla is building a platform, API and maybe a closed trust network (dwolla instant) to supplant ACH for a few consumers.What’s the difference between that and what NACHA is? NACHA defines the standard of communication between two banks, so one bank account holder can perform communications to another bank account holder and vice versa. NACHA / ACH are just that standard of communication: the banks can talk to each other using whatever kind of software platform they choose – all you have to do is conform to the standard – I could use Notepad and FTP or a Telex machine.Dwolla itself performs communications internally between Dwolla accounts. All I have at my disposal to use Dwolla is their API function calls and the functionality built into the service. There’s no ATM withdrawals, no bill payments, no direct deposit, etc. etc.Ultimately money comes into Dwolla over ACH transactions… so Dwolla is a walled garden with a tolll booth to the rest of money. It can’t replace ACH, for one, because it is attached to the financial world by ACH, for another, because it doesn’t do what ACH does, cementing together all the banks – rather, it is a satellite to the banking system with its own tenuous gravity to its accounts at the major institutions.I can take a stab as to what would replace ACH and it involves open sourcing ACH standards and providing a trunk service and informational protocol (balance inquiries) on top of ACH. Don’t tell anyone though.

  33. Jeff Mills

    Another Open Protocol that is doing a good job is Backplane ( and the spec is at…. Janrain and Echo originally developed it.It allows on-site widgets/apps to communicate with one another thought a secure Bus via messages around identity and activity. Essentially apps that are enabled can be plugged in and swapped in and out as needed without proprietary APIs etc. It keeps developers from having to develop and maintain one-off integrations.The OpenID Foundation just started a work group ( around the spec to help it grow and improve adoption.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks Jeff. I will check it out.

  34. Casobsvr

    As an unsophisticated consumer of internet services, has significant appeal as it establishes the user as the consumer as opposed to the product. While the developer piece is compelling and facilitates innovation, it is not the central appeal of the service for me. Essentially my willingness to pay for is due to its clean (specifically add free) design, simplicity and user oriented services. A overly developer centric platform has a potential undermine the simplicity of the original service. There is a clear love hate relationship with wide spread adoption and a developer’s paradise.

  35. scott_mcleod

    The solution we all need is coming sooner than later… Decentralized & agnostic social networking platform. A social cause corporation, open sourced development, transparent accounting and collective decision making around the cause of empowering individuals and communities with the resources and technology they need to facilitate positive growth.We will be launching a Kickstarter shortly for administrative/setup costs, followed by open-sourced development leading into crowd-funding to enable others to make decisions with the collective….Stay tuned.

  36. βˆ€aron Lee

    How on earth did this post get to 162 comments without a single mention of the IETF, and only one mention of Federation? This standards problem is know, and there is a process to deal with it. ‘We’ the startup community hate the idea of standards bodies and official documents, but it’s what gave us the web. There are RFCs that dictate how HTTP works, what MIME looks like, how XMPP works, there is even a draft for OAuth. Maybe it’s time we talk about a microblogging standard? Yes, an open standard like the OP talks about, but one done through the existing process instead of trying to build one-more-competing standard.

  37. Dierken

    This updated book (Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0) by Lawrence Lessig is highly relevant to the desire for open technology used by people and communities –

  38. LE

    “the most powerful tech companies give lip service to open while reaping massive profits from closed. “Solaris 10 was available free about two years ago but now you need an Oracle software subscription to pull patches and/or use in production environment as I found when recently trying to upgrade a few old servers.

  39. LE

    Ellison and Jobs were hatched from the same egg. So no surprise with what either company does. They just better not fuck with mysql.I just got a quote from Oracle on a few servers. The price was literally 3 times the cost of same from a vendor like Silicon Mechanics (I provided the exact spec also..) I remember maybe 5 years ago you could buy a low end Sun box for +- $1000. Now it’s like buying servers back at 1998 pricing.

  40. LE

    Centos running under Vmware esxi(The first thing I ran was AT&T System V on a 3B2/400. Next SGI Irix. Next Solaris. They all abandoned me..oh yeah there was also that COBALT server I had.) AT&T was so long ago it came with about 10 bound manuals in nice boxes. I kept one of them for posterity. SGI used to postal mail all sorts of booklets with tips etc.)One thing about the Sun boxes though. I had two colocated that went close to 2000 days w/o a reboot that’s right over 5 years (long story as to why but not for now).