I came across an interesting blog post talking about the possibility of an interoperable internet and the pros/cons for such interoperability. The idea behind an interoperable internet is that “digital walls” between social platforms are eliminated so that users can choose whichever platform they want but still be able to interact with users on a different platform.
The post talks about how the more people there are on a platform like Twitter, the more reason there is to use Twitter and, subsequently, the more difficult it is to leave that platform. This effect is called the “network effect” or “lock in”. This “lock in” means that some users, despite wanting to leave a platform for whatever reason, nevertheless continue to use that platform simply because that is where most people are. It’s kind of like FOMO, and the post calls this situation a “mutual hostage-taking”.
The post argues that if people are able to send messages and carry over their contacts onto different platforms, the costs of switching are reduced. Interoperability also gives users more freedom to choose a platform with privacy and moderation policies that better match their standards. However, in a decentralized and interoperable internet, it becomes more difficult to implement and enforce policies on a large scale. Also, the post points out that the ability to switch platforms more freely could just lead to an increase in platforms that have more lax policies and where harmful and undesirable content thrives.
Reading through this, I wonder if interoperability would ever become a reality. And if it were to happen, would it arise because of cooperation between various platforms or because of ownership by one company over multiple platforms? On the one hand, cooperation seems unlikely because platforms right now probably wouldn’t be happy to remove the “digital walls” and allow their users to flock to competitors more freely. On the other hand, Facebook has recently integrated Instagram and Messenger, so it seems to be in the strongest position to push for interoperability. However, interoperability between platforms owned by a single company (or a select few) may undermine the benefits, given how a lot of people are critical of the “editorial judgement” of major platforms.