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April 30, 2010

Who will own the Splinternet? Apple vs Facebook vs Google

Iphone facebook In the last month I have become even more convinced that the Splinternet is real. This is not just one of the most important trends to hit the Web in the last five years, it's a war. Facebook and Apple want to own as much of your Internet experience as possible.

I've used the term "Splinternet" to refer to a Web in which content on devices other than PCs, or hidden behind passwords, makes it harder for site developers and marketers to create a unified experience. Here's what's happened since we first started talking about it three months ago.

It got picked up in articles all across the Web. I heard from two more reporters today. This is an idea that has captured people's imaginations.

Shar VanBoskirk and I talked to 70 interactive marketers about it at our marketing forum. There is a real concern, especially about Apple and how marketers should approach it.

The more we talk to clients, the clearer it becomes that the two biggest splinters, Apple and Facebook, are at the center of the concern. Both are building on top of the broad Web foundation with their own proprietary worlds.

Apple's iPad appears to be off to a great start. And it's now clearer than ever that Apple's goal is to create a great experience by controlling the things that make PCs extremely flexible and open (and, of course, crash-prone). It's clear now that Steve Jobs wants nothing to do with Adobe Flash on this platform.(He just came out and confirmed it.) The two-step in which Apple banned, and then unbanned, an app with some provocative political cartoons was also instructive. This is not the open Internet, folks -- it's controlled by the company that manufactures it. Sure, you can view any Web site, but the best experiences on the iPad and iPhone will be delivered by apps that must meet Apple's requirements and don't come along with the usual Web tools. As a site developer or marketer, you need to choose -- live in Apple's world, or miss out on an upscale, engaged, and rapidly growing audience.

By syndicating its identity and "Like" function to other sites, Facebook is in its own way colonizing the Web as well. This time the weapon is not a device but an ID. You can now spend more of your time within Facebook, and bring more of Facebook into the other sites. But this activity takes you back again into a private world that Google can't see, because it depends on your ID and login. From a site developer or marketer's perspective, you're once again forced to live in someone else's environment, one you can't get a clear view into.

While Google has its own proprietary ID, the more these splinters gain ground, the more it stands to lose. So increasingly, you can see how the epic strategic battle at the center of the Splinternet trend is Apple vs. Facebook vs. Google.

Here are questions that you, as a participant in the Web, should ask.

  • Apple and Facebook win adopters by providing what those adopters need. In other words, the Web visitors are on the side of Apple and Facebook. But when will these companies start to prioritize their own needs more than the needs of their locked-in adherents? The criticism of Facebook's privacy policies is a good sign that this day may be closer than you think.
  • If you as a marketer or site move forward with partnerships with these companies, are your eyes open to the level of control they are exerting? Is there a point at which you would leave them behind? How would you decide?
  • What will it take for standards (HTML5, OpenID) to make these splinters irrelevant? How long will we have to wait for these standards to get wide adoption? Who will support them?
  • Once the splintering begins, who else has a killer device or experience that could take on these giants?

This topic always seems to generate controversy. Bring it on. . .

P.S. I dedicate this post to Barbara French of Tekrati, who has made me her featured analyst blog this week. I had to create something to justify her choice!

Photo credit: Nikke Lindqvist via Flickr


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Stefano Maggi

This is very interesting. Another clue of the splinternet? Integration with operating systems.
Mobile phones started to show it: think about Microsoft Kin, Android on HTC Hero 2, iPhone OS 4 (as far as the rumors go).

Today the new version of Ubuntu Linux (http://www.ubuntu.com/products/whatisubuntu/1004features) has social network integration: social from the start.

Another sign of the splinternet. Probably this is the open side of splinternet.

Scott Joy

What makes it a war? Why must there be winners and losers? How is this really a change from the way the Internet has always been?

Joe Buhler

Don't see it as war either. There is a wide range of choice available how to experience the web via any browser both mobile or via desktop/laptop and as far as I remember all work on a Mac without access restrictions.

As for apps, again there is a wide range available on different devices. If Apple in the interest of quality control wants to have a say on which ones they sell, I consider a positive.

Josh Bernoff

If you don't think this is a war, take a look the Adobe CEO's remarks in the WSJ today. And Steve Jobs' anti-Flash rant from yesterday. This is a battle all right.


Totally agree with you. Amazon and more recently twitter are also splitting the Internet. Microsoft position is not clear yet for me (create their own or partner with Facebook?).
Splinternet will also come from powerful vertical vendors in several industries. And I hope, one big open source actor.

Joe Buhler

I have no argument with the premise of the splinternet which is happening. Just don't think it's an all out war. A battle, sure, has been pretty much a constant in the tech world and the one between Jobs and Adobe has been going on for a while now.

Gila Gideon

I read all your "splinternet" posts ever and I wonder: You said FB is part of this splinternet for shutting its content behind closed doors (password) but we see that it opens more & more for google indexing lately & now we have the "LIKE" button. The "LIKE" opens FB stream of content to all. Isn't it?
OHH...great articles-
Gila Gideon (Israel)

Scott Joy

I'd agree there's a battle over the future of Flash.

Mike Lee

Great post & a great topic of discussion. I just wanted to ask for clarity on one point. You wrote:

"I've used the term "Splinternet" to refer to a Web in which content on devices other than PCs, or hidden behind passwords, makes it harder for site developers and marketers to create a unified experience."

By "hidden behind passwords," do you consider content from free registrations, like NY Times, in that bucket? And what about paid registrations, like WSJ, HBR, and ironically, Forrester?

Just curious. Thanks!

Josh Bernoff

Mike, good question.

Sites that use a password but enable free access aren't splintering the Web. Like the New York Times. Its content is still indexed by Google.

Sites like Forrester.com and the Wall St. Journal are in a middle ground. They require a password for full content view but allow Google to index the content behind the password.

Despite recent moves, much of Facebook is invisible to Google because only your friends can see your content, and Google isn't your friend. (I'm speaking literally, not metaphorically, here -- Google hasn't "friended" you.) And the amount of new content on Facebook every day dwarfs what Forrester or even the Wall St. Journal creates daily. So Facebook is a much bigger splintering force here, since it can't be indexed, searched, or reliably linked to.


There is no war, at least with regard to Flash. Flash won't ever exist on iPhone OS devices, that's all there is to it (and good riddance, I say, and I'm an enterprise Flash/Flex developer). Flash is battling to remain relevant in the face of HTML5 -- there's your war story. HTML5 = open; Flash = proprietary.

"This is not the open Internet, folks..." I don't think Apple or most anybody would argue that the App Store is in any way meant to be the Internet, open or otherwise (just as Flash != Internet).

You can view WSJ through their App Store app, or fire up Safari -- how much more open would you like? NYT, USA Today (Etc.), same. If developers create compelling HTML5-based web content, it will be a fantastic experience on iPhone OS devices.

Regarding FaceBook: is there any content on there worth reading? Let it be locked away, throw away the key. "Like" is the popularity contest of middle school applied to the Internet. I don't Like it.

The Internet is alive and well and doing just fine. Standards-based development is finally coming to fruition and those who have promoted and followed it are now set to thrive.

Craig Randolph

I don’t understand why these companies all want to control content. Historically, this idea has cost them a lot of market share. When will they learn to not limit the experience of the end user and create a more flexible experience that lets the end user personalize and be in control their own experience? I think whoever figures this out first will win the war.

runescape gold

Thank you very much. I am wonderring if i can share your article in the bookmarks of society,Then more friends can talk about this problem.


Interesting term "splinternet".


Dave McConnell

Please tell us what's proprietary about Apple driving towards the use of standards compliance for browser display.

Even Microsoft finally seems to have gotten religion on adherence to web standards with announced plans for IE9. About damn time!

Further, does anyone truly advocate for the ongoing dependence on plug-ins as the future of the web? Seriously? And that's "open" how?

While some are clearly threatened by Apple's increasing relevance, let's hold all technology companies to the same measuring stick.

Account Deleted

I there what u called competency,but i don't see it as war. There is a wide range of choice available how to experience the web browsing both mobile or laptop and as far as I remember all work on a Mac without access restrictions. Again there is a wide range available on different devices.

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