Bebo has the right idea
Wednesday, December 12, 2007 by Dave Winer.
I don't know what Bebo is, I guess it's a social network, they say it's #3 in the USA, #1 in the UK, but they just did something that's pretty likely to work, if it's technically possible. They're cloning Facebook so that their service will run Facebook apps. What this means, if they can pull it off, is that they won't have to fight to get support from developers. That's a big deal.
Google could have done this with OpenSocial. Watching the panel assembled by Marc Canter at LeWeb3, I was reminded of every tech conference I've been to for almost 30 years. Some big company sitting in the center, and lots of smaller ones sucking up to them, not daring to say what's obvious, that the big company is only interested in limiting the growth of an upstart (not present on stage of course). That's where the Fear comes in Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. We don't say anything because we're too scared to. Even the outspoken Marc Canter, who's smart and has been around this block many times, doesn't dare say what's obvious.
Now Bebo decides to get in lockstep with Facebook, not Google. Of course! Facebook has the juice. But this is a dangerous place to be if Facebook doesn't want them there, and being a big company, they probably don't. The only value of having clones to FB is that it negates the threat from Google. Sometimes having clones is a good thing, but usually the clones take over the market. Witness MSIE and Netscape, and then Firefox. Compaq et al and IBM. dBASE and Fox. It's possible to depose an installed leader if it's possible to clone them. As a user and developer, I'd like to see FB be open to cloning. If I were a FB shareholder I'm not so sure.
One constituency that's sure to like the existence of clones are Facebook developers. Without choice in platform vendors, they have nowhere to go when the sole vendor decides to take over their market. With a viable alternative, unless FB is incredibly aggressive and builds its competitive features so they can run on competitive platforms, at least developers will have a place to run their apps when FB encroaches.
Platforms are a game, like Risk, with rules and strategies. Google did not play the game wisely with OpenSocial. I chalk this up to inexperience on the part of the strategists. So far Facebook has been doing what's needed to keep its dominant position. Bebo deciding to clone the Facebook API ratifies that position, it's a gutsy move, but the best one available to them, and to other would-be Facebook competitors.
PS: The news is slow to reach Europe. Facebook said yesterday that they support what Bebo is doing. Very enthusiastically. That should be the end of OpenSocial.