The Switchboard of the Social Web

by Jay Deragon on 11/06/2007

The “Switchboard of the Social WebThis image shows women working the telephone switchboard, about 1960. Often referred to as “cordboards” by telephone company personnel, early switchboards in large cities usually were mounted floor to ceiling in order to allow the operators to reach all the lines in the exchange. The operators were boys who would scoot up a ladder to connect to the higher jacks.

In the 1890s this measure failed to keep up with the increasing number of lines, so a new system was devised for operators to work together, with a team on the “A board” and another on the “B board.”

The purpose of the “switchboard” was to connect one party to another manually. As stated the old system of “manual switchboards” was replaced with automated routing of calls driven by the increase demand and usage of the telephone. Technology facilitated an explosive market.

Today’s social web operates in similar fashion to the initial system of “switchboards” during the early introduction of the telephone. Developers of applications have to “plug into” any given platforms application programming interfaces for the purposes of enabling the application to “communicate” with people who use the platforms functions, i.e. social interaction with bells and whistles. In a similar fashion users are also forced to “plug into” individual networks manually, i.e. signing in using different protocols and applications.

Google’s recent announcement of OpenSocial is centered around creating a set of “standard API’s” that ultimately interface with all participating social networks. The spin of OpenSocial is centered around Open API thus automating interfaces rather than having developers create new interfaces for each network they want their applications to run on. The ultimate aim is to enable end users cross functional connectivity with ease of use regardless of which network they participate in. Google is also moving to create the same “seamless connectivity” for mobile functionality with their announcement about Andriod, see story here….

The ultimate goal is for any social website to be able to implement the APIs and host 3rd party social applications for wired or wireless devices.

Dancing with Giants

While Google’s spin seems a logical move for an industry fragmented with players, platforms and frustrated users the attempt to move into the leadership role is risky. When we look at the leaders of web traffic, after all this is all about capturing traffic for strategic position, we can see that the other dominant traffic sites are not listed as participating in the Google initiative. Facebook, the new maverick playing in the BIG Boys sandbox, was not asked to the table by Google. Did Facebook, Microsoft and Yahoo loose their invitations or simply forget to show up for the dance? Highly unlikely. These parties are in different dancehalls strategizing how to attract, or keep, the masses at their party.

Standing up and stating the need for standards in a market that is in the middle of emergence is like trying to set rules and manage the masses during the days of the wild wild west. Cowboys and Indians are everywhere and the likes of Microsoft and Yahoo aren’t likely to follow when their traffic is at stake if they were to cooperate with Google. The word on the street from the development community of small entrepreneurs is that the current OpenSocial platform “isn’t as open as it claims to be”. The word from participating networks is “this is the best thing that could happen to the social web and we’re happy to participate“.

Will there ever be one switchboard?

Consider the history of the telecommunications industry. The BIG got BIGGER then they got small. They became regulated then deregulated. Consolidations followed deregulation and the wave of change continues. The growth of mobile functionality was and still is fueled by small developers. Inter-operability has become the emerging cry of standards for the mobile space. Sound familiar?

In a highly competitive world fueled by technological innovation cooperation and collaboration sounds good but the reality is motivation for selfish gains drive capital markets. Capital markets motivate the BIG, innovation motivates the small and then they get bought by the BIG. The final switchboard for social networks will likely come from the independent small firms who then will become BIG. Greed is a strong motivation for both the BIG and the small.

What say you?

{ 1 comment }

Lawrence Perry November 6, 2007 at 9:29 am

A great article Jay!

Not quite like CatchFriday Contact Center in Makati, Philippines though…..

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