Sci-Tech

Google evangelist warns Facebook could be the next AOL

Staff Reporter

Vint Cerf says Facebook's closed model risks it becoming a "walled garden" unconnected from other networks and websites.

Vint Cerf, Google’s chief internet evangelist, and the man who designed one of the key building blocks of the internet, warned that Facebook’s “closed” architecture meant that it was risk of eventually failing to keep up with the public who want an open standard so they can easily jump from one website to another.

Speaking at an event organised by the Guardian, Cerf said that Facebook was at risk of following the path of companies such as AOL, whose original business model became irrelevant, or being rendered obsolete like proprietary networking systems once invented by the likes of IBM.

Among US technologists, comparing Facebook to the old AOL or outdated IBM technology is a way of trying to argue by analogy that the wildly successful social network has no long term future—and comes in the week when Google is desperately trying to break Facebook’s dominance with the launch of its own Google+.

Cerf first noted that AOL began in the 1980s as “a walled garden model” that “persisted for quite a while until the users of AOL forced it to be made accessible to the internet”—and that IBM persisted with “proprietary networking protocols” and was only forced to adopt internet technology for its computers because “users didn’t want to be locked in” to one brand of hardware.

He went onto to say that “Facebook was becoming that way” as “a closed walled garden” and that its problem was that the “ability to connect to people inside the walled garden” would be overwhelmed by “a desire to interconnect” to other social networks or websites.

AOL was forced into a painful business transition that has gradually seen the company migrate from providing its own version of the internet into an online publisher, while the IBM technology he described no longer exists. Facebook, however, remains on a rapid growth path with its revenues doubling to $1.6-billion in the first half of this year.

Twitter an ‘interesting proposition’
Cerf, the designer of TCP/IP, contrasted Facebook with Twitter, which he said was “an interesting proposition” and particularly powerful because, despite the 140 character brevity of normal tweets, “you can put URLs [web addresses] in them, which lets you reach out into the gigantic expense of the internet”.

Google and Facebook have become locked in an increasingly intense rivalry as the newer social network grows rapidly, and spooks Google executives into believing that Facebook will eventually become the default form of online navigation. That has prompted Google to try and overhaul Facebook with its Google+ offer, the latest in several attempts after the high profile failures of Orkut and Google Buzz to try and create its own rival.

Cerf said that “I do have a Facebook page” but added that he was unhappy that Facebook began blocking friend requests, warning those wanting to befriend him saying there were too many people trying to do the same thing. Cerf lightheartedly complained that he had been “mortally insulted” by Facebook’s blocking, and after complaining to Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, he was allowed to increase the number of his friends.

However, that left Cerf bombarded with information about “what these friends were doing” news he conceded “I couldn’t care about”. He contrasted that with Google’s rival Google+ system, which uses a system of ‘circles’ to allow members to distinguish between different spheres of connection, such as family and work colleagues—which Cerf argued gives people more control over who they share news and personal information with. - guardian.co.uk

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