Tag Archives: facebook

Why Banning Anonymous Comments is Bad for Postmedia and Bad for Society

Last night I discovered that my local newspaper – the Vancouver Sun – was going to require users log in with Facebook to comment. It turns out that this will be true of all Postmedia newspapers.

I’m stunned that a newspaper ownership would make such a move. Even more so that editors and journalists would support it. We should all be disappointed when the fourth estate is unable to recognize it is dis-empowering those who are most marginalized. Especially when there are better alternatives at ones disposal. (For those interested in this I also recommend reading Mathew Ingram’s post, Anonymity Has Value, In Comments and Elsewhere from over a year ago.)

So what’s wrong with forcing users to sign in via Facebook to comment?

First, you have to be pretty privileged to believe that forcing people to use their real names will improve comments. Yes, there are a lot of people who use anonymity to troll or say stupid things, but there are also many people who – for very legitimate reasons – don’t want to use their real name.

What supporters of banning anonymity are saying is not just that they oppose trolls (I do too!) but that, for the sake of “accountability” we must also know the name of recovering sexual abuse victim who wants to share their personal perspective on a story in the comments. Or that we (and thus also their boss) should get to know the name of an employee who wants to share information about illegal or unethical practices they have seen at their work in a comment. It also means that a comment you make, ten years hence, can be saved on a newspapers website, traced back to your Facebook account and so used by a prospective employer to decide if you should get a job.

What ending anonymity is really about is power. Now, those who can comment will (even more so) be disproportionately those who have the income and social security to know they can voice their concern in public, safely. So I’m confident that this move will reduce trolls – but it will also snuff out the voices of those who are most marginalized. And journalists clearly understand the power dynamics of our society and the important role anonymity plays in balancing them  this is why they use anonymous sources to get scoops and dig up stories. So how newspapers as an institution, and journalists as a profession see narrowing the opportunity for those most marginalized to challenge power and authority in the comments section as being consistent with their mission, I cannot explain.

There are, of course, far better ways of handling comments. The CBC does a quite decent job of letting people vote up and down comments – this means I rarely see the worst trolls and many thoughtful comments rise to the top. The Globe does an adequate job at this as well. Mechanisms such as these are far less draconian the “outlawing” anonymity and preserve room for those most impacted or marginalized.

But let me go further. Journalists and editors often complain about the comments section as being wild. Well how often to they take even the tiniest bit of energy to engage their commentators? There are plenty of sites that allow anonymous comments with fantastic results – see flickr or reddit – but this is because those sites invested in creating norms and engaging their users. When has a journalist or commentator in this country ever decided to invest themselves in engaging their readers and commenters on a regular and ongoing basis in the comments section? While I’m sure there are important exceptions, by and large the answer is almost never. Indeed, I’m always stunned by the number of journalists and commentators I talk to who more or less hold much of their audience in contempt – seeing them as wild. No wonder the comment section has run amok – we can pretend otherwise but the commenters know you don’t respect them. If newspapers are not happy with their comment sections, they really have no one to blame but themselves. This is after all, the community they created, the norms they fostered, the result of investments that they made. Shluffing it all off to Facebook both runs counter to their mission but is also a shirking of responsibility (and business opportunity) of the highest order.

Of course, handing the problem to Facebook won’t solve it either. It was suggested, at last count, that over 80 million facebook accounts are fake. Expect that number to go up. But of course, the people who will be most happy to create that fake account are going to be the trolls who want to use it regularly, not the lone commentator who has an important perspective about a story but doesn’t want to tell the world who they are out of fear of social stigma or worse.

What’s worse, Postmedia has now essentially farmed its privacy policy out to Facebook. Presently that means that, in theory, you can’t be anonymous. But what will it mean in the future? Postmedia can’t tell you. They can’t even influence it.

For an organization managing discussions as sensitive as newspapers do – that is a pretty shocking stance to take. Who knows what future decisions about privacy Facebook is going to make. But here’s what I do know, I trusted the National Post a hell of a lot more to manage my comments and identity than I do Facebook because their missions are totally different. In the end, this could be bad not just for comments, but for Postmedia. Many people are already pretty uncomfortable with Facebook’s policies. I expect more will become so. Even if they don’t comment, I suspect readers will be drawn to sites that engage them more effectively – a newspapers that has outsourced its engagement to Facebook will probably lose out.

I get that Postmedia believes its job of managing comments will become easier because it has outsourced identity management to Facebook – but it has come at a real cost, one that I think is unacceptable for a newspaper. In the end, I think the quality of engagement and of discussion at Postmedia will suffer. That will be bad for it, but it will also be bad for society in general.

And that is sad news for all of us.

Added @ 9:27am PST. Note: Some Postmedia journalists want to make clear that this decision was a corporate one, not theirs.

How Dirty is Your Data? Greenpeace Wants the Cloud to be Greener

My friends over at Greenpeace recently published an interesting report entitled “How dirty is your data?
A Look at the Energy Choices That Power Cloud Computing
.”

For those who think that cloud computing is an environmentally friendly business, let’s just say… it’s not without its problems.

What’s most interesting is the huge opportunity the cloud presents for changing the energy sector – especially in developing economies. Consider the follow factoids from the report:

  • Data centres to house the explosion of virtual information currently consume 1.5-2% of all global electricity; this is growing at a rate of 12% a year.
  • The IT industry points to cloud computing as the new, green model for our IT infrastructure needs, but few companies provide data that would allow us to objectively evaluate these claims.
  • The technologies of the 21st century are still largely powered by the dirty coal power of the past, with over half of the companies rated herein relying on coal for between 50% and 80% of their energy needs.

The 12% growth rate is astounding. It essentially makes it the fastest growing segment in the energy business – so the choices these companies make around how they power their server farms will dictate what the energy industry invests in. If they are content with coal – we’ll burn more coal. If they demand renewables, we’ll end up investing in renewables and that’s what will end up powering not just server farms, but lots of things. It’s a powerful position big data and the cloud hold in the energy marketplace.

And of course, the report notes that many companies say many of the right things:

“Our main goal at Facebook is to help make the world more open and transparent. We believe that if we want to lead the world in this direction, then we must set an example by running our service in this way.”

– Mark Zuckerberg

But then Facebook is patently not transparent about where its energy comes from, so it is not easy to assess how good or bad they are, or how they are trending.

Indeed it is worth looking at Greenpeace’s Clean Cloud report card to see – just how dirty is your data?

Report-card-cloud

I’d love to see a session at the upcoming (or next year) Strata Big Data Conference on say “How to use Big Data to make Big Data more Green.” Maybe even a competition to that effect if there was some data that could be shared? Or maybe just a session where Greenpeace could present their research and engage the community.

Just a thought. Big data has got some big responsibilities on its shoulders when it comes to the environment. It would be great to see them engage on it.

Why I’m Struggling with Google+

So it’s been a couple of weeks since Google+ launched and I’ll be honest, I’m really struggling with the service. I wanted to give it a few weeks before writing anything, which has been helpful in letting my thinking mature.

First, before my Google friends get upset, I want to acknowledge the reason I’m struggling has more to do with me than with Google+. My sense is that Google+ is designed to manage personal networks. In terms of social networking, the priority, like at Facebook, is on a soft version of the word “social” eg. making making the experience friendly and social, not necessarily efficient.

And I’m less interested in the personal experience than in the learning/professional/exchanging experience. Mark Jones, the global communities editor for Reuters, completely nailed what drives my social networking experience in a recent Economist special on the News Industry: “The audience isn’t on Twitter, but the news is on Twitter.” Exactly! That’s why I’m on Twitter. Cause that’s where the news is. It is where the thought leaders are interacting and engaging one another. Which is very different activity than socializing. And I want to be part of all that. Getting intellectually stimulated and engaged – and maybe even, occasionally, shaping ideas.

And that’s what threw me initially about Google+. Because of where I’m coming from, I (like many people) initially focused on sharing updates which begged comparing Google+ to Twitter, not Facebook. That was a mistake.

But if Google+ is about about being social above all else, it is going to be more like Facebook than Twitter. And therein lies the problem. As a directory, I love Facebook. It is great for finding people, checking up on their profile and seeing what they are up to. For some people it is good for socializing. But as a medium for sharing information… I hate Facebook. I so rarely use it, it’s hard to remember the last time I checked my stream intentionally.

So I’m willing to accept that part of the problem is me. But I’m sure I’m not alone so if you are like me, let me try to further breakdown why I (and maybe you too) are struggling.

Too much of the wrong information, too little of the right information.

The first problem with Google+ and Facebook is that they have both too much of the wrong information, and too little of the right information.

What do I mean by too much of the wrong? What I love about Twitter is its 140 character limit. Indeed, I’m terrified to read over at Mathew Ingram’s blog that some people are questioning this limit. I agree with Mathew: changing Twitter’s 140 character limit is a dumb idea. Why? For the same reason I thought it made sense back in March of 2009, before Google+ was even a thought:

What I love about Twitter is that it forces writers to be concise. Really concise. This in turn maximizes efficiency for readers. What is it Mark Twain said?  “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Rather than having one, or even thousands or readers read something that is excessively long, the lone drafter must take the time and energy to make it short. This saves lots of people time and energy. By saying what you’ve got to say in 140 characters, you may work more, but everybody saves.

On the other hand, while I want a constraint over how much information each person can transmit, I want to be able to view my groups (or circles) of people as I please.

Consider the screen shot of TweetDeck below. Look how much information is being displayed in a coherent manner (of my choosing). It takes me maybe, maybe 30-60 seconds to scan all this. In one swoop I see what friends are up to, some of my favourite thought leaders, some columnists I respect… it is super fast and efficient. Even on my phone, switching between these columns is a breeze.

twitter

But now look at Google+. There are comments under each item…but I’m not sure I really care to see. Rather then the efficient stream of content I want, I essentially have a stream of content I didn’t ask for. Worse, I can see, what, maybe 2-5 items per screen, and of course I see multiple circles on a single screen.

Google+1

Obviously, some of this is because Google+ doesn’t have any applications to display it in alternative forms. I find the Twitter homepage equally hard to use. So some of this could be fixed if (and hopefully when) Google makes public their Google+ API.

But it can’t solve some underlying problems. Because an item can be almost as long as the author wants, and there can be comments, Google+ doesn’t benefit from Twitter’s 140 character limit. As one friend put it, rather than looking at a stream of content, I’m looking at a blog in which everybody I know is a writer submitting content and in which an indefinite number of comments may appear. I’ll be honest: that’s not really a blog I’m interested in reading. Not because I don’t like the individual authors, but because it’s simply too much information, shared inefficiently.

Management Costs are too high

And herein lies the second problem. The management costs of Google+ are too high.

I get why “circles” can help solve some of the problems outlined above. But, as others have written, it creates a set of management costs that I really can’t be bothered with. Indeed this is the same reason Facebook is essentially broken for me.

One of the great things about Twitter is that it’s simple to manage: Follow or don’t follow. I love that I don’t need people’s permission to follow them. At the same time, I understand that this is ideal for managing divergent social groups. A lot of people live lives much more private than mine or want to be able to share just among distinct groups of small friends. When I want to do this, I go to email… that’s because the groups in my life are always shifting and it’s simple to just pick the email addresses. Managing circles and keeping track of them feels challenging for personal use. So Google+ ends up taking too much time to manage, which is, of course, also true of Facebook…

Using circles to manage for professional reasons makes way more sense. That is essentially what I’ve got with Twitter lists. The downside here is that re-creating these lists is a huge pain.

And now one unfair reason with some insight attached

Okay, so going to the Google+ website is a pain, and I’m sure it will be fixed. But presently my main Google account is centered around my eaves.ca address and Google+ won’t work with Google Apps accounts so I have to keep flipping to a gmail account I loathe using. That’s annoying but not a deal breaker. The bigger problem is my Google+ social network is now attached to an email account I don’t use. Worse, it isn’t clear I’ll ever be able to migrate it over.

My Google experience is Balkanizing and it doesn’t feel good.

Indeed, this hits on a larger theme: Early on, I often felt that one of the promises of Google was that it was going to give me more opportunities to tinker (like what Microsoft often offers in its products), but at the same time offer a seamless integrated operating environment (like what Apple, despite or because of their control freak evilness, does so well). But increasingly, I feel the things I use in Google are fractured and disconnected. It’s not the end of the world, but it feels less than what I was hoping for, or what the Google brand promise suggested. But then, this is what everybody says Larry Page is trying to fix.

And finally a bonus fair reason that’s got me ticked

Now I also have a reason for actively disliking Google+.

After scanning my address book and social network, it asked me if I wanted to add Tim O’Reilly to a circle. I follow Tim as a thought leader on Twitter so naturally I thought – let’s get his thoughts via Google+ as well. It turns out however, that Tim does not have a Google+ account. Later when I decided to post something a default settings I failed to notice sent emails to everyone in my circles without a Google+ account. So now I’m inadvertently spamming Tim O’Reilly who frankly, doesn’t need to get crap spam emails from me or anyone. I’m feeling bad for him cause I suspect, I’m not the only one doing it. He’s got 1.5 million followers on Twitter. That could be a lot of spam.

My fault? Definitely in part. But I think there’s a chunk of blame that can be heaped on to a crappy UI that wanted that outcome. In short: Uncool, and not really aligned with the Google brand promise.

In the end…

I remember initially, I didn’t get Twitter; after first trying it briefly I gave up for a few months. It was only after the second round that it grabbed me and I found the value. Today I’m struggling with Google+, but maybe in a few months, it will all crystallize for me.

What I get, is that it is an improvement on Facebook, which seems to becoming the new AOL – a sort of gardened off internet that is still connected but doesn’t really want you off in the wilds having fun. Does Google+ risk doing the same to Google? I don’t know. But at least circles are clearly a much better organizing system than anything Facebook has on offer (which I’ve really failed to get into). It’s far more flexible and easier to set up. But these features, and their benefits, are still not sufficient to overcome the cost setting it up and maintaining it…

Ultimately, if everybody moves, I’ll adapt, but I way prefer the simplicity of Twitter. If I had my druthers, I’d just post everything to Twitter and have it auto-post over to Google+ and/or Facebook as well.

But I don’t think that will happen. My guess is that for socially driven users (e.g. the majority of people) the network effects probably keep them at Facebook. And does Google+ have enough features to pull the more alpha type user away? I’m not sure. I’m not seeing it yet.

But I hope they try, as a little more competition in the social networking space might be good for everyone, especially when it comes to privacy and crazy end-user agreements.

The Social Network and the real villains of the old/new economy

The other week I finally got around to watching The Social Network. It’s great fun and I recommend going out and watching it whether you’re a self-professed social media expert or don’t even have a Facebook account.

Here are some of my thoughts about the movie (don’t worry, no spoilers here).

1. Remember this is a Hollywood movie: Before (or after) you watch it, read Lawrence Lessig’s fantastic critique of the movie. This review is so soundly brilliant and devastating I’m basically willing to say, if you only have 5 minutes to read, leave my blog right now and go check it out. If you are a government employee working on innovation, copyright or the digital economy, I doubly urge you to read it. Treble that if you happen to be (or work for) the CIO of a major corporation or organization who (still) believes that social media is a passing phase and can’t see its disruptive implications.

2. It isn’t just the legal system that is broken: What struck me about the movie wasn’t just the problems with the legal system, it was how badly the venture capitalists come off even worse. Here is supposed to be a group of people who are supposed to help support and enable entrepreneurs and yet they’re directing lawyers to draft up contracts that screw some of the original founders. If the story is even remotely true it’s a damning and cautionary tale for anyone starting (or looking to expand) a company. Indeed, in the movie the whole success of Facebook and the ability of (some) of the owners to retain control over it rests on the fact that graduates of the first internet bubble who were screwed over by VCs are able to swoop in and protect this second generation of internet entrepreneurs. Of course they – played by Sean Parker (inventor of Napster) – are parodied as irresponsible and paranoid.

One thought I walked away with was: if, say as a result of the rise of cloud computing, the costs of setting up an online business continue to drop, at a certain point the benefits of VC capital will significantly erode or their value proposition will need to significantly change. More importantly, if you are looking to build a robust innovation cluster, having it built on the model that all the companies generated in it have the ultimate goal of being acquired by a large (American) multinational doesn’t seem like a route to economic development.

Interesting questions for policy makers, especially those outside Silicon Valley, who obsess about how to get venture capital money into their economies.

3. Beyond lawyers and VCs, the final thing that struck me about the movie was the lack of women doing anything interesting. I tweeted this right away and, of course, a quick Google search reveals I’m not the only one who noticed it. Indeed, Aaron Sorkin (the film’s screenwriter) wrote a response to questions regarding this issue on Emmy winner Ken Levine’s blog. What I noticed in The Social Network is there isn’t a single innovating or particularly positive female character. Indeed, in both the new and old economy worlds shown in the film, women are largely objects to be enjoyed, whether it is in the elite house parties of Harvard or the makeshift start-up home offices in Palo Alto. Yes, I’m sure the situation is more complicated, but essentially women aren’t thinkers – or drivers – in the movie. It’s a type of sexism that is real, and in case you think it isn’t just consider a TechCrunch article from the summer titled “Too Few Women In Tech? Stop Blaming The Men” in which the author, Michael Arrington, makes the gobsmacking statement:

The problem isn’t that Silicon Valley is keeping women down, or not doing enough to encourage female entrepreneurs. The opposite is true. No, the problem is that not enough women want to become entrepreneurs.

Really? This is a country (the United States) where women start businesses at twice the rate of men and where 42% of all businesses are women owned? To say that women don’t want to be entrepreneurs is so profoundly stupid and incorrect it perfectly reflects the roles women are shoveled into in The Social Network. And that is something the new economy needs to grapple with.

The Web and the End of Forgetting: the upside of down

A reader recently pointed me to a fantastic article in the New York Times entitled The Web and the End of Forgetting which talks about the downside of a world where one’s history is permanently recorded on the web. It paints of the dangers of a world where one can never escape one’s past – where mistakes from college rear their head in interviews and where bad choices constrain the ability to start anew.

It is, frankly, a terrifying view of the world.

I also think it is both overblown and, imagines a world where the technology changes, but our social condition does not. Indeed, the reader sent me the piece because it reminded him of a talk and subsequent blog post I wrote exactly a year ago on the same topic.

But let’s take the worse case scenario at face value. While the ability to start anew is important, at times I look forward to a world where there is a little more history. A world where choices and arguments can be traced. A world of personal accountability.

Broadcast media fostered a world where one could argue one position and then, a few months later, take the exact opposite stand. Without easily accessible indexes and archives discerning these patterns was difficult, if not impossible. With digitization, that has all changed.

The Daily Show remains the archetype example of this. The entire show is predicated on having a rich archival history of all the major network and cable news broadcasts and having the capacity, on a nightly basis, to put the raw hypocrisy of pundits and politicians on display.

The danger of course, is if this is brought to the personal level. The NYT article identifies and focuses on them. But what of the upsides? In a world where reputation matters, people may become more thoughtful. It will be interesting to witness a world where grandparents have to explain to their grandchildren why they were climate change deniers on their Facebook page. Or why you did, or didn’t join a given political campaign, or protest against a certain cause.

Ultimately, I think all this remembering leads to a more forgiving society, at least in personal and familial relationships, but the world of pundits and bloggers and politicans may become tougher. Those who found themselves very much on the wrong side of history, may have a hard time living it down. The next version of the daily show may await us all. But not saying anything may not be a safe strategy either. Those who have no history, who never said anything at anytime, may not be seen relevant, or worse, could be seen as having no convictions or beliefs.

I loved the New York Times article, but it looked at society as a place where social values will remain unchanged, where we won’t adapt to our technology and place greater emphasis on new values. I can imagine a world where our children may say – how did you have friends with so little personal history? It may not be our ideal world, but then, our grandparents world wasn’t one I would have wanted to live in either.

Clay Shirky, Connected and Yellow Pages

Yellow-pages-comicTwo weeks ago, after seeing Yellow Pages stacked, unused and unwanted in both my own and several friends apartment buildings, I started a Facebook Group entitled 100,000 Canadians who’ve opted out of yellow pages! In two weeks, with friends telling a friend here and there, we’ve grown to 1000 people. So where did this come from and where is it going?

Well, for a number of years there have been petitions against Yellow Pages but obviously they have had little impact and, frankly, I suspect they actually garner few sign-ups. In Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do Christakis and Fowler show how people are more likely to vote when their friends, and friends’, friends voted. This suggests there is a strong social component to behaviour. Given that many people I talk to want to opt-out, I thought maybe people will be more likely to opt-out if they knew their friends and their friends, friends opt out. And maybe we could help create that cycle. Facebook, because it allows us to connect with our friends and share some online actions we take, felt like a great platform to do this. Indeed, it seemed to me exactly the ingredient that many online petitions (Which don’t allow you to socialize your activity) seemed to be missing. Also, surprisingly, there wasn’t already a Facebook group dedicated to this.

yellow-pages-banIndeed, looking at Yellow Pages own research reaffirmed my belief that such a group could be successful. They claim 61% of Canadians aged 18+ use their directories at least once a month to look up a business. (Interestingly you can’t read the report on which the claim is made). But (a) this felt unlikely and (b) once a month? So people use the yellow pages 12 times a year…? That’s not delivering value, indeed the number is so unimpressive and underwhelming that if that is the best they can offer, I’m sure we can find lots of Canadians who’d prefer to just say no.

So how I have I structured this (admittedly) off the side of my computer and amateur-driven campaign? I’m trying to follow Clay Shirky’s three pieces of advice at the end of Here Comes Everybody. Make clear the promise, the tool and the bargain.

The Promise: the thing that convinces a potential user to become an actual user.

The promise of this Facebook group is: by taking a simple action and sharing it with our friends, we can save a lot of waste and not receive a large (and annoying) piece of spam in our mailbox. The goal here is to keep everything simple. Participating requires very little time, the impact is immediate (you stop receiving the yellow pages) but also can scale significantly (lots of yellow pages may never get printed). Indeed, an extreme possible outcome – should enough people join the group – is breaking the printed yellow pages business model. If a sufficient number of Canadians actually opted out of the yellow pages, it would be hard for advertisers to believe Yellow Pages marketing materials as probably several more million aren’t on facebook, haven’t joined the group, but also find it useless. But, I’m not holding my breath – for now, I’m happy even getting a few thousand people to opt out.

The Tool: what will enable people to do what they actually want to do.

In our case, it is opt out of receiving the yellow pages. So there are two key tools. The first, is Yellow Pages opt-out form. Indeed, this group exists because there’s failure in information distribution. In some ways the group is about socializing this tool that people find helpful. Most people I talk to think the Yellow Pages are a waste and wish they didn’t have to get them. The truth is, you can opt out of receiving them – it was just that nobody knows how. We are fixing that information gap.

The second tool is a way to share the good news with others. Here, thanks to facebook, we leverage their tools, such as invites, status updates, people even upload photos of Yellow Pages siting unwanted in their apartment lobbies, share videos or – as in the case of Rob above – draw cartoons!

An unanticipated tool has been people helping each other out with filling out the form, or giving feedback to Yellow Pages about their service.

The Bargain: Helps clarify what you expect of others and what they can expect of you.

The bargain for this group is possible most interesting. Since I believe the Yellow Pages is spam and that, frankly, no one likes getting unwanted emails here is the bargain I’ve crafted. Users will opt out of the yellow pages and, hopefully, tell a few friends about the group. As group owner, I promise to only reach out to the group 5 times. Once when the group size hits 1000, 5,000, 10,000, 25,000, and (if we are so lucky) 100,000! I don’t want people to feel burdened by this group – I want them to feel liberated, happy and rewarded. Moreover, people’s time is valuable… so not communicating with them is probably the best thing I can do – hence, the self-imposed limits that reflects milestones we can collectively feel proud of achieving.

Going forward

So without spamming our own networks we’ve gotten to 1000 people in two weeks. Fairly good growth. Will we hit 100,000? I don’t know. It is an ambitious goal. Will we break the Yellow Pages business model? Probably less likely. But can we save some trees and save ourselves the hassle of receiving some very bulky and unwanted mail. Yes. And maybe we can show that Canadians don’t use the Yellow Pages. Ultimately, though we can tell a company that the very people it claims to serve just think it is appalling that they spam an entire country with a 400 page book particularly in an era where, as far as I can tell, so few people actually use it.

Oh, and I hope you’ll consider joining the group and telling a few friends.

The Dangers of Being a Platform

Andrew P. sent me this article Apple vs. the Web: The Case for Staying Out of Steve Jobs’s Walled Garden that makes a strong case for your media company to not develop (or at least not bet the bank on) an iPhone App as the way out of trouble.

Few companies actually know how to manage being a platform for an ecosystem and Apple is definitely not one of them. Remember this is company that’s never played well with others and has a deeply disturbing control freakishness to it. Much like Canadians are willing to tolerate the annoying traits of the federal NDP, consumers and developers were willing to tolerate these annoying traits as long as Apple was merely influencing the marketplace but not shaping it. As Apple’s influence grows, so to do the rumblings about its behaviour. People say nice things about Apple’s products. I don’t hear people say nice things about Apple. This is stage one of any decline.

Here, history could be instructive. Look back at another, much more maligned company that has a reputation of not playing well with others: Microsoft. Last year, I wrote this piece about how their inability to partner helped contribute to their relative decline. In short, after kicked around and bullying those who succeeded on its platform, people caught the message and stopped. Today Apple thrives because people elect to innovate on their platform. Because it has been interesting, fun, and to a much, much lesser degree, profitable. Take away the “interesting” and “fun” and/or offer up even a relatively interesting competing platform… and that equation changes.

Heck, even from a end user’s perspective the deal Apple made with me is breaking. Their brand is around great design and fun (think of all those cute fun ads). They still have great design, but increasingly when I think of Apple and the letter F comes to mind the word “fun” isn’t what pops into my head… its “fascism.” Personally I’m fairly confident my next phone will not be an iPhone. I like the phone, but I find the idea of Steve Jobs controlling what I do and how I do it simply too freaky. And I don’t even own a multi-million dollar media empire.

So being a platform is hard. It isn’t license to just print money or run roughshod over whoever you want. It is about managing a social contract with all the developers and content creators as well as all the end users and consumers. That is an enormous responsibility. Indeed, it is one so great we rarely entrust it to a single organization that isn’t the government. Those seeking to create platforms, and Apple, and Facebook especially (and Google and Microsoft to a lesser extent) would all do well to remember that fact.

Oh, and if you’re part of a media companies, don’t expect to saved by some hot new gizmo. Check out this fantastic piece by John Yemma, the Editor of The Christian Science Monitor:

So here’s my position: There is no future in a paywall. No salvation in digital razzle dazzle.

There is, however, a bold future in relevant content.

That’s right. Apple won’t save you. Facebook doesn’t even want to save you. Indeed, there is only one place online where the social contract is clear. And that’s the one you can create with your readers by producing great content. On the web.