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Free Range

I've been having a bit of healthy discussion over here about whether businesses should embrace the new culture of openness or whether, to quote David "opening up a network only makes sense for the losers, not the winners," and instead "it is right to figure out which areas will be strategic to retaining users, and keep those closed at all costs."  I guess readers of this blog will know already where I stand on this, but for the record here's what I think.

I think it's too late. I think the balance of power has already shifted. And I think it's about your customers not about you. And you know what? This is a good thing.

Data portability between services and networks is already a significant issue. Its a major pain in the butt to be constantly keying in the same information and constructing multiple bespoke profiles. Consumer demand will inevitably drive the undoing of blockers to the free flow of data. Like Charlene Li, I believe that in the future social networks will be "like air…anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be" and that "without that social context in our connected lives, we won't really feel like we are truly living and alive". The socialisation of all content is already happening. If you erect barriers to interaction users will simply migrate to better services.

I'm not suggesting that companies should immediately start posting their balance sheets on the internet. But I am suggesting that in any place where they interact with their consumers they should respect the fact that it is their customer's data they are playing with (or it is at least shared data) and that that requires that the rules of engagement are respect, authenticity, openness. If you treat it like a war against your own customers to desparately try and fence them in it becomes a huge problem. If you treat it like a chance to engage with your customers in a more interesting and rewarding way it becomes a massive opportunity. 

And as far as monetisation is concerned, then I think the equation is very simple, even if the execution is more of a challenge. What ever happens, it will be based on facilitation and not around creating barriers. Success will be premised on interactions with an engaged community, as it always has been. Keep your users happy, you'll make money. Help them do what they are trying to do, you'll make money. Unhappy customers go elsewhere and don't come back.

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