Defrag Blog

The constrained future of social computing

by Eric Norlin on Aug.28, 2009, under Uncategorized

Jud Valeski of Gnip (defrag sponsor) has a wonderful blog post up that every single “social media expert” out there needs to read (and understand). In the post, Jud lays out why it is that the IP address, which has become the “canonical access regulator” for cloud-based web apps that call on APIs are now operating in a “constrained resource” environment. (yea, heavy stuff - go READ IT.)

I can hear the social media/social business design/let’s all hold hands and collaborate crowd (by the way, I love you guys, I’m just having fun) saying, “why in the H-E-double hockey sticks do I need to understand web AP thingamajigies and IP addresses?”

Here’s why: There’s a fundamental presupposition that underlies most “social media/social business” thought these days. That presupposition is that we’re somehow altering the laws of supply and demand. You’ll often hear Cluetrain proponents (of which I am self-admittedly one) talk about how the internet is altering the supply-demand equations of “industrial economies.”

The point is a good one - that in a “knowledge economy,” the whole idea of scarcity shifts.

But in the social media/social business world, it’s also one that’s stunningly easy to gloss over and stomach without understanding the technical underpinnings of what you’re saying.

If you’re building out something (anything) in a social space that has a “cloud component” (oh, by the way, that encompasses EVERYTHING in the e2.0/social computing realm), then you must understand that web APIs are a resource that is being *constrained.*

Some of that constraint is artificial and some of that restraint is an actual property of the technology, but any way you slice it, the fundamental infrastructure of the “social” movement is built upon a constrained resource - namely, the ability to scale web API calls (where that current ability lies in blocking certain IP addresses, or limiting their behavior).

These two areas –infrastructure and the social computing space - may not seem to be related, but they are. Time and time again, as we’ve built out technologies, we’ve discovered after the fact that some important technology piece ended up having real, conceptual consequences down the road.

The constrained resource that is web APIs is that piece for social media. And social media experts need to get educated about what that means for their clients. Does it mean that some social media services that depend on other web APIs can just be broken someday? Yep. That a cost structure can arise out of nowhere? Yep. That third parties can buy special access to pipes and data (theoretically)? Yep.

It means all kinds of un-knowable things.

Where do we go from here? I don’t know. Federated web API systems that authenticate on something other than IP addresses? Maybe. Does that solve any of the questions I just posed above? Not really.

This topic needs lots of discussion.

promo: You can get that kind of discussion at Defrag - don’t miss out on early bird pricing (expires Monday).

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