Ending walled gardens with microformatted microcontent

Forgive me for stating the obvious today, but I'm surprised how little I seem to see this point repeated.

I continue to be surprised by the continual emergence of Web 2.0 companies putting up walled gardens to try to hold onto users. I think MySpace is the current prototypical example. They could use a lesson from AOL on how likely they are to be successful over the long term. When AOL offered ease-of-use, content, and community features that simply weren't available on the Internet at the time, AOL grew at enormous rates. Once the Internet was well established outside of AOL's walls, AOL quickly tumbled.

You can expect the same results with MySpace. From outside MySpace today, it is possible to link to MySpace, be linked by MySpace pages, and consume MySpace blog entries using an RSS feed. Interaction to the broader Internet is roughly limited to just those features. Once there is broader access to video/photo/blog/music hosting, friend linking, trusted commenting, shared calendars, templates/widgets, and all of the other MySpace features, people will start wondering why they put up with all of the advertising and spam on MySpace. MySpace is "free", but there are many degrees of freedom. Person A might even want to control how Person B's sites appear when Person A reads them. This freedom is established with microformatted microcontent over RSS/Atom feeds and aggregated feed readers.

Microcontent is simply each of the entries you make on your MySpace pages (or other people's pages) today, but placed into small, consistent containers. Your preferences could be stored in a microcontent article. Certainly each of your blog entries, friend relationships, and everything else you communicate on MySpace could also be placed into microcontent articles once the right microformats are defined. Those microformats provide the protocol for interoperability in whatever RSS reader you use.

Of course, the RSS readers need to be smarter than they are today. Bloglines and Google Reader are fantastic compared to what we had before they existed. They are, however, still significantly limited, providing almost no microformat or customization support at all. This will change quickly, however, and the garden walls of social networking will fall before people start trying to build walls around something totally new.

So, Web 2.0 companies, I guess you can't help but build your pretty little walled gardens while you can. If I was a VC, I wouldn't give you a dime unless you had an exit plan.

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