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The Splinternet War: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook

What One of the Important Trends on the Web Means for You

By Published on . 7

Josh Bernoff
Josh Bernoff
In the last month I have become even more convinced that the splinternet is real. This is not just one of the most important trends to hit the web in the last five years, it's a war. Facebook and Apple want to own as much of your internet experience as possible.

I've used the term "splinternet" to refer to a web in which content on devices other than PCs, or hidden behind passwords, makes it harder for site developers and marketers to create a unified experience. Here's what's happened since we first started talking about it three months ago.

It got picked up in articles all across the web. I heard from two more reporters today. This is an idea that has captured people's imaginations.

Shar VanBoskirkand I talked to 70 interactive marketers about it at our marketing forum. There is a real concern, especially about Apple and how marketers should approach it.

The more we talk to clients, the clearer it becomes that the two biggest splinters, Apple and Facebook, are at the center of the concern. Both are building on top of the broad web foundation with their own proprietary worlds.

Apple's iPad appears to be off to a great start. And it's now clearer than ever that Apple's goal is to create a great experience by controlling the things that make PCs extremely flexible and open (and, of course, crash-prone). It's clear now that Steve Jobs wants nothing to do with Adobe Flash on this platform.The two-step in which Apple banned, and then unbanned, an app with some provocative political cartoons was also instructive. This is not the open internet, folks -- it's controlled by the company that manufactures it. Sure, you can view any website, but the best experiences on the iPad and iPhone will be delivered by apps that must meet Apple's requirements and don't come along with the usual web tools. As a site developer or marketer, you need to choose -- live in Apple's world, or miss out on an upscale, engaged, and rapidly growing audience.

By syndicating its identity and "Like" function to other sites, Facebook is in its own way colonizing the web as well. This time the weapon is not a device but an ID. You can now spend more of your time within Facebook, and bring more of Facebook into the other sites. But this activity takes you back again into a private world that Google can't see, because it depends on your ID and login. From a site developer or marketer's perspective, you're once again forced to live in someone else's environment, one you can't get a clear view into.

While Google has its own proprietary ID, the more these splinters gain ground, the more it stands to lose. So increasingly, you can see how the epic strategic battle at the center of the splinternet trend is Apple vs. Facebook vs. Google.

Here are questions that you, as a participant in the web, should ask.

  • Apple and Facebook win adopters by providing what those adopters need. In other words, the web visitors are on the side of Apple and Facebook. But when will these companies start to prioritize their own needs more than the needs of their locked-in adherents? The criticism of Facebook's privacy policies is a good sign that this day may be closer than you think.
  • If you as a marketer or site move forward with partnerships with these companies, are your eyes open to the level of control they are exerting? Is there a point at which you would leave them behind? How would you decide?
  • What will it take for standards (HTML5, OpenID) to make these splinters irrelevant? How long will we have to wait for these standards to get wide adoption? Who will support them?
  • Once the splintering begins, who else has a killer device or experience that could take on these giants?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Bernoff is co-author of "Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies," a comprehensive analysis of corporate strategy for dealing with social technologies such as blogs, social networks and wikis, and is a VP-principal analyst at Forrester Research. He blogs at blogs.forrester.com/groundswell.
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