The Web as operating system

October 19th, 2007 | by ian |

Alistair, who has been writing recently at GigaOM, puts together the most lucid synthesis I have seen on the topic of the “Web OS.”

Big Internet companies are making themselves the OS of the web 2.0 world. In addition to the fundamentals — operating a web application, storing data, handling logins — each company has a core expertise. In Google’s case, it’s page ranking and relevance; Facebook maps social relationships; Salesforce knows about customer relationships; and eBay has an auction and reputation engine.

Each of these web OS service platforms by their natures can in theory interoperate, and competitors can in theory be mixed and matched. Alistair points out that developers who use these sites as platforms still have tenuous relationships with the terms of use (such as the vibrant Facebook developer community). This will be pretty contentious, as many of the big web site “platforms” have incentives to build their own apps. But all software platform companies realize that developer communities are the key to success, and if Facebook doesn’t find the right balance of developer rights and incentives someone else will. In an ideal world we assume a free market where the user can basically choose their web OS options from a range of competitors. The question is how much competition can the market sustain (can there be multiple platforms for each service (who competes with eBay?) and can there be multiple winners within the ecosystems that run “atop” those platforms. I think the answer to the latter is yes, but my concern is with the former (competition for platforms) and how much collusion there will be between the established “components” to band together monopolistically (eBay and Facebook sitting in a tree), which has been a bit of an issue in the software world.

In a slight digression I leave you with the following totally awesome video on the nature of information and how the web is setting it free:

  1. One Response to “The Web as operating system”

  2. By Alistair on Oct 19, 2007 | Reply

    Agree — some standards like OpenID promise to create consistent services (in this case authentication) across these “operating systems” but most of the systems remain proprietary.

    Still, a demonstration of Popfly, recently out of closed beta, by Microsoft, showed it’s pretty easy to build applications by stitching together metadata (images, names, and so on) from other sites such as Facebook, Flickr, and Google Image Search.

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