Open Standards
Sep 2023 - Alex Alejandre

Long ago, the greybeards had an open messaging standard: XMPP. Alas, while big tech implemented it (FB Messenger, WhatsApp, Google Messenger all used XMPP), they locked their services down so you couldn’t connect them.

Open APIs and standards are a start but matter not, when perverse network Anticompetitive behaviors like burning capital to take market share with free offerings distort the ch market effects drive antimarket outcomes. The current tech ecosystem’s a sad song of market failure. An open standard, once hoped, should drive competition, with market participants driving innovation and cost reduction. Alas, a near cartel strongarmed most competition away.

Can regulation force big tech to open user data, enabling competition for the user’s benefit?

Imagine exporting your contacts from FB, Whatsapp, Telegram in a usable format, you can important to another app (at your choosing!)

Imagine not being forced to receive messages from FB on Instagram, imagine not being forced to give your phone number everywhere! (How do you feel receiving a text message from an E-Mail address?)

Imagine a custom UI for Reddit, Twitter etc. (we once had Trillian, Pidgin… a single app to use MSN, AIM…) with its own search functions…

But do users really want this? Does Marl want this?

According to Google, no one used Google Talk’s federation capabilities besides spammers. The masses stay in pruned walled gardens. To Marl, it’s just confusing, to Google it was a hightened maintenance and antispam workload for no product benefit.

Do we hackers overestimate people’s desire for open standards, for technology like federated systems? Perhaps. Perhaps it is our burden to force better products on the world, against the kicking and screaming of the masses.

But perhaps we draw the wrong conclusions and ask the wrong questions. Perhaps standards require more than technical solutions, perhaps they’ve lacked the organizational finesse we can learn from the monopolies?

A more rigid core standard, actively keeping up with new technology may have delivered XMPP’s federated dream. In reality, each sever supported a different feature set, while lacking common features every other chat app offered. As mobile technology transformed, XMPP stayed still. Pidgin worked on Google Talk, before an XEP brought (necessary) OIDC authentification and those 3rd-party clients couldn’t keep up.

It seems it’s easier to control the app and its feature set, with its profitable tracking and ads. I don’t know the solution.

Email too was made proprietary, with individuals unable to selfhost anymore.