Same Old Playbook

Over at the Verge, Adi Robertson has an article calling out some of Zuckerberg’s recent comments about an “open” ecosystem for VR being wrong and misguided on multiple levels. The comments in question include such bangers as:

In PCs, I think you’d say that Windows during the ’90s and 2000s especially was really the primary ecosystem in computing. The open ecosystem was winning.

Mark Zuckerberg

Which, uh, no. Windows was not an open ecosystem. Microsoft in general wasn’t an open ecosystem. Anyone who ever had to try and open a Word document in some other tool at the time can tell you that. They’re doing a lot better these days, but that’s after both legal and economic pressure to do so.

Microsoft was so far from meaningfully open that it was almost broken up by regulators. It was so notoriously domineering that we got a whole movie about a Bill Gates stand-in who murders programmers. If anything, it’s the kind of reference point that I personally might avoid if I were fighting antitrust suits across multiple continents! To the extent Microsoft is open, it’s partly thanks to years of intense legal pressure that Meta is only beginning to face.

Adi Robertson

(I did think it was weird they called Netscape a “startup”, and that particular line I think could have been phrased better – Internet Explorer may be a joke now, but it a) wasn’t then, and b) wasn’t decades old.)

What the article (and Zuck’s comments) really drive home to me, though, is that they’re basically running by the same playbook they did for Facebook. Which is to say, talk up how things will be interoperable, encourage folks to buy in, and then once they’ve captured a good chunk of the market, close the doors. You offer enough partnerships and deals with other services that it looks like you’re playing nice with others, but at the cost of an actually open ecosystem, and at the cost of actual interoperability. The little guys get screwed first, but again, once they have enough of the market, no one is safe. It doesn’t take much — shutter an API or tweak an algorithm, and suddenly you’ve ruined the ability for others to function. (This has happened repeatedly, such as shutting off third party access so content has to be created in-house; deprioritizing/burying non-FB links to content; dictating an algorithmic pivot to prioritizing video content, then back again; charging pages to “promote” content if they want their content visible to subscribers… the list goes on and on.)

I’ve already commented on the fact that I don’t think VR is ready for widespread mainstream adoption. I do think some of the work they’ve done with the Oculus and Quest is interesting. But there’s no way in hell I want FB/Meta anywhere near the levers of control for the development of a “metaverse platform”.