I was one of the first people to congratulate Chris Messina on his blog when he announced he was going to Google. It was a personal congratulations. I wasn’t sure if it was good overall for the open web vision or the community as a whole. In the end after thinking about it for a few days I feel it is a good move for them, for Google and for the community. The rest of this post explains why.
With Chris going to Google it gives them three seats on the OpenID board (Joseph and Chris are both community board members and Google has a corporate paying board member seat filled by Eric Sachs). It concentrates a lot of power at Google and I agree with Eran’s concerns from Marshall’s RWW/NYTimes article …why be “open” if you can just have an internal product meeting with Brad Fitzpatrick and a few other Googlers and “ship” a product without reaching out to others. I agree with the concern and I think there will be enough eyes on these individuals in particular and Google in particular to challenge them if they do that.
Thursday morning I sat at “geek breakfast” in Berkeley with a friend discussing Chris and Joseph’s move to Google. We mused about how many people we knew who “get social” have been at Google and because “Google didn’t get social” they were unhappy so they left, Kevin Marks being just the latest example leaving in the fall for British Telecom/Ribbit where he works for JP Rangaswami, the CIO who really gets open.
Given this, if “just” Joseph Smarr was going to Google he would be more “alone” trying to “do social right” at Google. Yes, he would have allies but no one quite as high profile as himself. With Chris Messina there too, there are now two major committed community leaders who can work the politics involved in helping Google to “get” social and actually do it right. If anyone has a hope inside that big company it is those two and I don’t think either could be as effective alone.
If Chris and Joseph fail, that is if they get frustrated and leave (which they can at any time they want cause they are very “employable” because of their profiles by a whole range of companies in the valley) then is a sign that Google doesn’t really “get” social and isn’t moving in the right direction in terms of supporting the emergence of an open standards based, individually empowering & social web.
With Zuckerberg’s statement’s about privacy and the recent actions by Facebook to make user-information public, Google has a huge opportunity to live up to its slogan of “not doing evil”. Over the fall Google made some promising statements on the meaning of open and took action spinning up the Data Liberation Front.
I know many people who currently are and have been at Google. All of them talk about how secure things are internally – it is not possible to go into their systems and “look up a user” and poke around at what they have in their e-mail, or what they have searched on or what is in their google docs. Algorithms look at people’s stuff there, not people. Google takes their brand and reputation for protecting people’s private information seriously. I am not particularly starry eyed about Google thinking they can do no evil – they are just a company driven by the need to make a profit. I worry that they might be becoming too dominant in some aspects of the web and that there are legitimate concerns about the monopoly power they have in certain market area.
I don’t see this as a Google vs. Facebook fight either. Chris, Brad, Eric, Joseph are all at Google & David Recordon and Luke at Facebook; they are all good friends socially and are just six people in the overall identity community made up of about 1000 people at 100′s of companies. Yahoo!, AOL, Microsoft (enterprise & MSN side), are all involved along with PayPal, Amazon, BT, Orange, Mozilla, Sun, Equifax, Apple, Axiom, Oracle, & many many more. They all come together twice a year at the Internet Identity Workshops and other events to collaborate on innovating open standards for identity on the social web.
I invite those who want to participate in the dialogue to consider attending the 10th Internet Identity Worskshop May 18-20.
I take the health of the identity community, its over all tone and balance quite seriously. I helped foster it from the beginning really starring in March of 2004 including 9 months from June of that year until January 2005 it was my first major job – evangelizing user-centric identity and growing the community to tackle solving this enormous problem (an identity and social layer of the web for people). I along with others like Doc Searls, Phil Windley, Drummond Reed, Bill Washburn, Mary Ruddy, Mary Rundle, Paul Trevithick, Dick Hardt, Eugene Kim & many others formed the identity community. Having put my heart, soul, sweat and tears into this community and working towards good results for people & the web, I don’t say what I say in this post lightly.