Breaking Down Monoliths 1990’s Style

As a dorky/geeky middle schooler in the early 90’s, I remember the frustration of not being able to have my messages flow from Prodigy to users on other services such as CompuServe. We were locked in to virtual message board monoliths…

Prodigy (online service) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia: “Two of Prodigy’s most popular services turned out to be its message boards and email. Because Prodigy’s business model depended on rapidly growing advertising and online shopping revenue, email was developed primarily to aid shopping, not for general communication between users, which in practice is what it became. The message boards resulted in users being connected to the service far longer than projected. This resulted in higher than expected expenses, adversely affecting the service’s cash flow and profitability.”

Eventually, the AOL monolith was hatched in the mid-90’s and that caused a great exodus to their platform. Prodigy, CompuServe, etc limped along for a few years but ultimately faded away into the nether.

Ultimately, AOL would be replaced by Friendster then MySpace and now a tripartite conglomeration of mostly Facebook, a little Twitter and Tumblr for the niche folks. Sure, there are Google+, the new, Foursquare, Yelp, as well. However, we’re back to where we were in 1993 with user lock in of messaging and communication.

I was elated when Twitter came into prominence and more mainstream adoption in 2007. I remember having coffee with Tris Hussey at an Affiliate Summit that year and discussing how Twitter would rapidly become a protocol similar to POP or IMAP or even TCP/IP that would serve as the social messaging backbone of the internet. It would allow for the delivery of content and messages between services and become something of an open messaging standard that was so lacking then and definitely is now.

We were wrong then and certainly wrong now about Twitter.

Maybe the new darling will solve this issue or fill this need. I hope so. Dalton certainly has high aspirations.

Head over to TWiT and listen to the last This Week in Google featuring Dalton Caldwell in which Leo and Kevin Marks really ask some great questions about’s future and long-term strategy. It’s the best podcast I’ve heard Leo do in a long while.

So back to 1992 and 2012, Dave’s post here is a pipe dream in the age of advertising being the backbone of our social networks (Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr and Google at least) but one I’ll happily add my support to:

We could make history — I.M.H.O. — Medium: “We need to break out of the model where all these systems are monolithic and standalone. There’s art in each individual system, but there’s a much greater art in the union of all the systems we create.”

Imagine a web where advertising supports, rather than impedes, network and social spaces working together.

Maybe that’s or maybe it’s a slow realization that RSS and hyperlinks are really the best way to have a decentralized social network backbone. It’s the reason I encourage my students all to have their own blog, their own space on the web… not just a Facebook or Twitter profile (and adults too).

I’m certainly betting on that as I have re-thought of this place less as my “blog” and more of my own self-hosted social presence on the web.

Sure, things will pipe out of here to Facebook and Twitter, sending signals to folks locked into those walled-gardens that I’ve updated something or shared something. However, I’ll be posting less and less direct stuff there and instead focusing on this being my coral reef.

It will happen to us all. Eventually.

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