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A wake up call for open business

Sir Tim Berners Lee’s Scientific American Essay is something of a wake up call in a world where all the internet success stories seem to be closed and controlled.

Facebook and Apple are surely very big deals which are hard to ignore and which don’t

exactly play by the principles of open.

Sir Tim – the man most often cited as the father of the worldwideweb (not the internet – that’s just the tubes) – points out that the reason the web scaled at all was because of its very decentralised status.

No Government, no organisation, no one decided how many news sites there should be, or whether or not to make blogging software available with free hosting, or how videos could and should play or if and when social networks of the Facebook variety could and should emerge. Or even who should pay for what.

The web – as I often say – functions just as the economy (and just as evolution and the weather, too) in that they are complex adaptive systems: Fundamentally not controllable from the centre.

The web grows adapts and evolves through iterative experimentation. It is threatened by stagnation. When elements stop interacting they lose their ability to adapt, to become fitter, to add value.There is a simple rule of networks: Reed’s Law.

It states that one extra node on the network doubles its value. The opposite is also true. One node removed from the network halves its value (there is a 2n equation at work for the mathematicians among you).

It means that cutting our connectedness (and not just connections between people but also between objects and objects of information) reduces the opportunity for groups to recombine to solve issues important to them. It reduces the web’s ability to adapt to the needs of its users.

Every time you see a silo, that’s what’s happening.

Facebook, iTunes. Successful silos. AOL, The Times Online. Successful silos?

The web can wait. It’ll outlast them all.

My bet is that open will always beat closed in the end. There may be market and commercial advantages in closed states that are sustainable for a reasonable length of time – at least in company reporting cycle terms. But these are actually just blips in the life of the web and of the economy.

The greatest value the web will bring us is in helping us find people who care about the same things we do to help us solve a problem or create a solution right now. It’s a simple concept that delivers never-before-available efficiencies. Instead of the one-size-fits-all wastage of mass production, the web offers us the tools to scale relevance and for those who care about the same thing to discover each other and to self-organise.

The web then is far from primarily a comms tool. The misnomer of social MEDIA has fooled too many for too long. The web is far more a tool of creation. Messages – the expression of our metadata – make the connections but it’s what happens as a result of those connections, not the expression itself, which is critical.

The web is not for taking from it’s for making with, others.Breaking out of silos means more of us find more of the right people to make things with.Creating silos restricts our access to making value.But the biggest silos of all have yet to be tackled.

It’s relatively easy to blame the latest most successful social networks (harder to blame Twitter now its data is shared via Google anyway). Government’s are another easy target. The toughest to overcome are language and access.Imagine the extra value we’ll all be able to create when all those extra nodes connect with us.

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