Google vs. Facebook. Web 1.0 vs. Web 2.0. Anonymous vs. Transparent.

An article on Wired crystalized something I've been thinking about for a while. By all appearances, Facebook and Google are moving toward adversarial strategic positions on the web. On the one hand, you have Google with it's focus on embracing and promoting open standards, open source and open content--all the better to allow them to aggregate it for you. On the other hand you have Facebook, who encourages you to hand over your digital life wholesale where they will use a closed model to create a very seamless experience for you to interact with your friends--all the better for them to sell ads.

If we remove advertising and money from the equation, the implications of the two models are very different. Google becomes a technological libertarian state--which is very true to early and pre-web Internet culture. You choose how you participate online. You can be an observer, offering no interaction at all. You can be a personality, offering your views and opinions for the world to see. You can even be anonymous, and engage others in an antagonistic way.

Facebook, however, encourages you to be you. In fact, it's against the terms of service on Facebook to create a profile around a fictitious identity. The value Facebook brings is connections to people you know, and that makes is difficult to do anything on Facebook as an anonymous user. The Facebook model encourages you to be transparent, and largely reinforces social norms.

Google and Facebook have each become symbols of a much larger battle over the fundamental model of online interactions. When you take openness beyond Google's libertarian-like stance you get anarchy. Site's like SomethingAwful and 4chan represent the Anonymous banner to it's most extreme case. Here people revel in their lack of identity, and compete to see who can be the most shocking, the most vile--primarily for amusement.

Internet culture is pioneered by the anonymous corners of the web. It's been interesting to watch web culture infiltrate mainstream western society, and to see the fabric between the anonymous web and the transparent web draw thinner and thinner. The rapid advancement of memes, and the degeneration of humor are a result of this intermingling.

Of course, the transparent web is causing the opposite effect on regular life. The standard Web 2.0 watchwords of transparency and accountability are more than just buzz terms. When you publish your thoughts, activities and pictures in a way all your social spheres can see, it's much more difficult to be duplicitous. The complexity of telling two parties two different things is greatly increased by the transparent web.

While I don't think either trend will ultimately "win", it is interesting to watch these competing models simultaneously influence the development of the Internet--and by extension human culture.

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