More often than not all it takes to start a revolution is somebody who is angry enough to change the status quo. Ever since the dawn of social media sites the predominant business model has been variations of the walled garden approach to content originally pioneered by America Online (AOL). Today that walled garden approach manifests itself in the form of APIs that have been locked down by social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Dalton Caldwell, founder and CEO of App.net, an ad free social network, wants to change all that with the release this week of File API, which promises to make it simple for anyone to transfer files between different online services, whether they be social networks or entire enterprise applications.
For as little as $36 a year a user can access File API to, for example, transfer files in one photo service to another service just to try it out. If the user likes that new service they can then transfer all their files. Because it’s not easy to transfer those files, the perceived cost of switching to a new service drops. This should not only lead to increased innovation by making it easier for users to switch to a new service, Caldwell says File API in essence represents the “consumerization of middleware.”
App.net can take this approach because rather than being a media company that is trying to ultimately sell data to advertisers, App.net is a hosted service charging a flat fee for access to the API and the amount of storage a user consumes. Like other file transfer services the application itself is hosted on Amazon so the cost of the storage is relatively minimal, says Caldwell.
Caldwell freely admits he built File API because he felt burned by social media giants that limited his market opportunities as a developer by locking down their APIs. In fact, for all the celebration of innovation on the Web it still takes years for sites such as MySpace to be usurped by a competitor. Much of reluctance to switch service can be directly attributed to how difficult it is to move data from one service to another. That feeling of being locked in then creates vociferous debates over who actually owns the data stored in the service: the provider of the service or the user of that service that created it. Licensing terms and conditions make it clear it belongs to the service provider, but that doesn’t necessarily mean users shouldn’t be able to move that data wherever they see fit.
The most significant aspect of all this is that the ability to easily move data should give developers a lot of incentive to add support for File API to their applications, especially if they are taking on an incumbent application service provider. Ultimately, Caldwell contends giving developers access to data will result in better software for all. Right now, unfortunately, a lot of that innovation is being deliberately stifled by organizations based on business models that are deliberately designed to optimize the monetization of data by making sure it’s difficult to actually move it anywhere else.