The War of Giants – coming to a web near you

This has to be one of the few times that I find myself agreeing with Tim O’Reilly but his post today over at O’Reilly Radar touched on something that I’ve been thinking about for some time now. He started out with how Facebook seems to be messing around with links people are posting to their feeds. The short of it is that Facebook was removing the links from the posted URLs.

It turns out that this might have been more of a bug than anything intentional from Facebook. Tim used this though as his jumping off point to explain why he thinks we could be headed into some really troubling times on the web.

I’ve outlined a few of the ways that big players like Facebook, Apple, and News Corp are potentially breaking the “small pieces loosely joined” model of the Internet. But perhaps most threatening of all are the natural monopolies created by Web 2.0 network effects.

One of the points I’ve made repeatedly about Web 2.0 is that it is the design of systems that get better the more people use them, and that over time, such systems have a natural tendency towards monopoly.

And so we’ve grown used to a world with one dominant search engine, one dominant online encyclopedia, one dominant online retailer, one dominant auction site, one dominant online classified site, and we’ve been readying ourselves for one dominant social network.

But what happens when a company with one of these natural monopolies uses it to gain dominance in other, adjacent areas?

Near the end of his post he comes right and suggests that we could very well be facing a war for the control of the web.

It could be that everyone will figure out how to play nicely with each other, and we’ll see a continuation of the interoperable web model we’ve enjoyed for the past two decades. But I’m betting that things are going to get ugly. We’re heading into a war for control of the web. And in the end, it’s more than that, it’s a war against the web as an interoperable platform. Instead, we’re facing the prospect of Facebook as the platform, Apple as the platform, Google as the platform, Amazon as the platform, where big companies slug it out until one is king of the hill.

Tim finished off his post with an interesting prediction that given his past opinions caught me off guard.

P.S. One prediction: Microsoft will emerge as a champion of the open web platform, supporting interoperable web services from many independent players, much as IBM emerged as the leading enterprise backer of Linux.

I find the idea that he believes that Microsoft will end up being our champion of the open web absolutely fascinating, and one that I have believed for sometime now. It is incredible that the company derided at one time for being the most evil thing that happened to computers is now looked upon a more open company than its two main competitors.

I might not like the idea that we could be headed into troubling times on the web but on this I have to agree with Tim as well as have a great big chuckle over the changing opinion about Microsoft – even by O’Reilly.