I am convinced that the web is currently crippled in many ways compared to the closed silos which are Android, iOS, but also the giant platforms like Google+, Facebook or Twitter. The web has an incredible set of advantages compared to this plaform: the distributed-ness, the ubiquity, the lack of gatekeeper… etc
Yet, in 2014, the open web is much harder to use on many many levels than these plaforms and that’s what we should address first.
Following someone on a silo is often as easy as hitting a basic “Follow” button. Twitter does that extremely well, but Facebook, G+ and everybody else do it. The problem is obvious: there is a strong coupling between the reading platform and the publishing platform: you need a Twitter account to follow me there. Yikes.
The web itself is an amazing publishing and reading platform, why then, couldn’t we have web scale buttons to follow sites we like using the tools we pick? This is what SubToMe does.
I hope you’re questioning SubToMe’s openness.
The first, easy (yet skewed) answer would be to send you to the source code: it’s all in there, accessible to anyone for read and write: you can (and should) submit pull requests to make it better as some others have done in the past.
However, its openess is also guaranteed by the fact that it’s server-less. Most silos are probably built by good people. Yet, the economics of these silos are such that they need to lock your data in order to scale. Twitter needs to keep track of what you read if they want to show you relevant ads, Google needs to keep track of what you’re looking for to show you other ads… and paying services also have an incentive to lock you down if they want to guarantee their revenue stream (I’m looking at you, LinkedIn!).
SubToMe is not like that: it does not run on a server, but in your browser, fully. The consequence is that it’s completey free to run (except for the domain name hosting), and scales extremely well. Even when hundreds of milions of people use the button, the cost of making it available is the cost of bandwidth spent to download its couple KiloBytes once. This means, that there will never be a need for SubToMe to charge or put ads in front of its users.
So, not only not being open would be technically challenging, but it would also be economically difficult to sustain.
Then why do you care?
When somebody claims they’re doing the right thing, it’s mandatory to ask them what it their motive. After all, these silos are profitable businesses and they pay their employees significantly as well. Why not do the same?
Because I’m not into growing a slice, but into growing a pie. I am convinced that these silos are growing at the expense of the rest of the web. As time passes, we visit less and less different websites. And these few websites are probably receiving an increasing share of the total web’s revenues. My bet is that the web, like nature is stronger when there is more diversity, and I’d argue that the webdiversity is currently going down, exactly like its natural counterpart.
My business is also based on the amount of webdiversity. In a distributed world, it’s hard to collect data from thousands or milions of different sites and the need for services like Superfeedr exists. I believe our insterests in terms of open-ness is perfectly aligned with our business interest, which is why we picked open protocols for our API, and why we’re doing SubToMe.