The open, interconnected web has sadly turned into  a corporate battleground
A view from Russell Davies

The open, interconnected web has sadly turned into a corporate battleground

Something important died last week. It was a little service called LastGraph, which took data about your music-listening habits from Last.fm and made it into...

It died because the APIs from Last.fm stopped working. LastGraph wasn’t important like a cure for malaria, but it was important symbolically. It was an early and compelling example of how fascinating "web 2.0" could be and its demise is a canary in the web 2.0 coal mine – a signal that much of that promise is being turned off.

It worked because Last.fm made listening data easily available via an API, something that developers could work with to make additional services. So a lone developer made LastGraph, just because he thought it would be interesting. It wasn’t core to Last.fm’s business, but enabling it made its product more involving and stimulated innovation around music and listening habits.

Supporting the APIs isn’t a ton of work, but it is some, so maybe Last.fm has decided it’s no longer a corporate priority. The default assumption in web 2.0 was that user data belonged to the user and they should be allowed and encouraged to do interesting things with it. The default assumption now seems to be that user data might – technically – belong to the user, but the corporation that mined it should make sure it’s in a position to exploit it.

The open, interconnected web has faded from technology assumptions. The corporate priority nowadays is to aggregate as much behaviour and data as you can within your own "ecosystem". Google, Apple, Facebook et al all want to own the "full stack" of services to enable them to better understand users and more efficiently charge you to talk to them.

LastGraph’s demise is a canary in the web 2.0 coal mine, a signal that much of that promise is being turned off

Pushing users and data into someone else’s space is counter to their interests. So you won’t find the same florid ecosystem surrounding other music listening services as you did around Last.fm.

Berg’s Matt Webb summed it up in a couple of Tweets back in the summer: "Over 8 years since Flickr launched their API & it looked like the web would be an open coral reef, a vibrant ecosystem of creator-consumers." "It didn’t happen. HTTP is the best integration layer ever, and companies see a RESTful API as a threat. What was missing? The biz model?"

Maybe the business model was missing for the tech businesses, but it might not be missing for you. We’ll talk about that next week.

Russell Davies is a creative director at Government Digital Service
@undermanager

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