The problem with the Benevolent Dictator

Just 2 days left before either funds or fades away. It's pretty close, so a last minute push might do it. But regardless of funding, they will have a tough road ahead, since weening the internet off the "free" user-as-product paradigm has been a battle since the first .com boom where customer acquisition costs of over $1000/user with no revenue model were considered successful. I've signed up with at the developer level and wish for them to succeed, but am afraid that it will either be a niche product or an interesting experiment.

Meanwhile MG Siegler has a bit more pessimistic of an assessment, i.e. either will die because it sticks to its principles or succumb to the realities that being successful corrupts. If history is to be any indicator, his prognosis is a fairly safe one to make. And it goes to the heart of the problem of tackling something as fundamental as status network plumbing via a single vendor. As long as there is central control, the success of the controlling entity is likely to cause their best interest and their user's best interest to drift apart over time.

The annoying thing about this is that there doesn't have to be and neither should there be central control. Do you think that blogs would ever have been as big as they are now, if or would have been the sole vendor controlling the ecosystem and you could only blog or read a blog by having an account on their system? There is no owner to RSS or Atom, it's just specifications that address a simple but common pain of trying to syndicate content. Yet despite this lack of a benevolent dictator owning the space, a lot of companies were able to spring up and become very successful, without ever having to sign-up and get a developer key.

And that's is why I am working on the Happenstance specification. Mind you, I don't have the clout of Dalton Caldwell, but most of the plumbing we now take for granted did not originate from established entrepreneurs in our space, so I hope I will hit a nerve here with Happenstance that can get some traction. My aim is to design and implement something simple, useful and expandable enough that adopting it is a tiny lift and opens opportunities. The specification doesn't force any revenue model, so if implementors think they are better served by ad or subscription or some other model, they can all co-exist and benefit from the content being posted. I'm gonna keep plodding away at Happenstance and see whether the web is interested in being in control of their message feeds and be able to innovate on top of the basic feed without asking permission from a Benevolent Dictator.