From Joshua Topolsky at The New Yorker
It’s often difficult inside a closed system to see the boundaries that surround you. Sometimes you think you can see the whole of the universe. This is how closed systems like it: their inhabitants looking out through a distorted curvature that gives shape to space that is not there. This is how Facebook, Apple, and other technology platforms hope to trap and keep you. Sated, oblivious, and well fed. But human beings are not good with closed systems, and so, eventually, we see the fences, and then we run our hands along them to feel for shape and structure. We study how the fence weaves into and out of the trees. And one day, when the sun has gone down and the guards are asleep, we catapult over to the other side, and see all the things we couldn’t see before.
I wrote several years ago that Facebook’s dream is not to be your favorite destination on the Internet; its desire is to be the Internet. It would prefer that when you connect in the digital realm—an increasingly all-encompassing expanse—you do it within Facebook, which now includes Instagram, Whatsapp, and Oculus VR (in addition to its robust news feed, its Messenger chat app, its Moments photo-sharing platform, its video-player platform . . . well, you get the idea). This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon; for years technology companies have waged platform battles, hoping to lock in users with hardware, software, or services that only function inside a proprietary venue. Closed systems make your patronage simpler and more consistent, and it is through a closed system that a company can most readily own and control your data, which is then converted to revenue.
Facebook has been particularly focused on three areas lately: publishers’ content (that is, all the stuff that makes Facebook worth reading), video (the thing every creator on the Internet must do right now), and the youth market (all the people Facebook will need tomorrow). In all three places, the company has been playing a haphazard game of catch-up, trying to concoct a mixture of services, partnerships, acquisitions, and outright steamrolling that will insure ownership and control of these three crucial axes.
Reminds one of the Eagles song Hotel California: You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave.
Read the rest at The New Yorker