Losing the web

In December 2012 Anil Dash wrote a plaintive blogpost titled The web we lost, in which he looked back in regret at how much possibility the web seemed to hold in just a few years before. “Most social photos were uploaded to Flickr… easily discoverable on the public web using simple RSS feeds… You could find out who was talking about a topic [on a blog anywhere] regardless of what tools or platforms they were using to publish their thoughts.”

The early social web really was social, and really was a web, he argued. And that had been lost.

Take that thought, and double or triple it. In mid-April, the UK big data analytics company Datasift announced that Twitter would not be renewing its contract for “firehose access” to all its tweets — the content that gave the company its start. Twitter would be taking that in-house, leaving Datasift to find a new source. (It is working with Facebook.)

I know the feeling. The same has happened to my own company, which makes the apps Arrived (its second name; it used to share a name with Nokia’s maps division) and Lowdown. The idea of Lowdown is that it makes your forthcoming meetings simpler: it tells you when to head out and how to get there (via Apple Maps or Google Maps — you pick), and then it gives you information about the meeting attendees and their company.

Where did it get some of the latter data? From LinkedIn, which has the world’s biggest database of business people. You had to be a LinkedIn user to benefit from Lowdown, of course.

On 12th May, LinkedIn will cut off that access. Moving Lowdown to its ‘open’ API access. Even though we’d used its Vetted API and strictly observed its terms and conditions (rather than just scraping the site as some have done), it’s shrugging us off and locking us out.

Anil Dash recently replied to my tweet on this matter to say “@djsenior13 I’m not sure it’s cutting it off so much as being the sole seller of it, which I sort of think they always should have been.”

Fine. Lowdown can still be useful — there are other data sources out there. But who wins from this? LinkedIn loses those new users we brought to it, and we lose some of the potential to delight our users with insights on people and companies that we have sometimes painstakingly, inputted onto the platform.

That’s the sort of move where everyone loses. Closing the social web is, literally, antisocial: it makes it harder for people to interact and meet up. It also blocks the chance for companies to grow and thrive. Certainly, relying on someone else’s platform always puts you at their mercy. But business on the web is an ecosystem. You’ve got to allow others to thrive even if it comes at your own slight expense to begin with, because you’ll all thrive eventually.

It also raises the point of who owns your social profile. LinkedIn will sell the profile you created and keep up to date via the Sales Navigator app, but will shortly cut off Lowdown among many others, a free service, from being able to view your public profile before a meeting.

For the benefit of all, here’s to hoping LinkedIn will change its mind. Otherwise it’s another part of the web that’s lost.

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