Time & attention stole our RSS feed. Or, change your role models for a better web.

(I couldn’t decide on the title. Sorry.)

Jeremy Keith wrote a really great piece about how companies like Twitter and Facebook feel threatened by data interoperability and how this is setting a trend on the web:

Once Facebook had proven that it was possible to be the one-stop-shop for your user’s every need, that became the model to emulate. Startups stopped seeing themselves as just one part of a bigger web. Now they wanted to be the only service that their users would ever need …just like Facebook.

Jeremy is exactly right. These companies are looked up to by so many businesses today that they watch their every move and try to mimic them in hopes of mimicking their success.

Is there a way to buck the trend? Yes. In a recent post by Bill Gates (on LinkedIn of all places) he writes about three things he learned from Warren Buffet. Many of us fans of Warren have heard this before but it is certainly worth re-stating here:

you have to be willing to ignore the market rather than follow it, because you want to take advantage of the market’s mistakes

Facebook, Twitter, and others are making the mistake of taking away read-only API access like RSS feeds or by severely limiting the usage of their APIs under a stack of hard-to-understand terms. Why? Because people, and not just geeks like Jeremy and I, will want to use their data in ways like Jeremy describes in his post and in many other ways too.

So how do we do it? How do we buck the trend? We need to follow a different business model than the companies that feel threatened by something as simple as a RSS feed. Facebook and Twitter make the bulk of their money by keeping you on their sites under their well-designed user experiences. By keeping our attention. It is why Twitter cracked down so hard on third-party clients and why Facebook rarely allows its stream data outside of its own web page. They need to show ads and even more importantly they need to show ads in a way that produces real results in order to stay in business. RSS and third-party-designed experiences threatens that.

Advertising as a sole business model can cause companies to do crazy things. Their customer is the advertisers (large, global brands with millions to spend) and their product is us (their users). They will do just about anything to get us to stay on their site as long as possible. We might think; "Yeah, but I love Twitter. I love Facebook." I’m sure we do. I love Twitter. They hope we do. They work really hard and spend a lot of money to ensure that we do.

However, there has never been a single ad-driven market that hasn’t seen explosive growth followed by a long, drawn out crash. Print, Radio, TV, the Internet. Advertisers are not loyal to Twitter or Facebook just like they weren’t loyal to Print or Radio. They are loyal to us. Right now you’re probably using Twitter while you watch TV! So they put #hashtags right on your TV screen. They know you better than you know you.

If we want to see data interoperability increase and we want to see things like RSS begin to see growth once again we have to change our role models. We have to stop looking to Twitter and Facebook as our role models. We need to look to companies that count their users as their customer. And their customers will want to use their data however they’d like. Mimic them. Do better than them. Be more open than them. That’s when we’ll see things swing the other way.

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