The social web: it’s a matter of scale.

The social landscape is changing. It is changing because of the services available, its reach and those using it. It is even changing because those using it are altering their behavior.

The services we use are changing, adapting, morphing and even changing the rules.

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Shel Israel recently commented that a lot of the personal touch had gone; instead of people saying 'I' it was becoming 'we' in the business sense. The language is changing, becoming more corporate.

Dana Twichell expanded on this thought and called it "the fear". I think it's a matter of scale that is bringing the fear back.

sizeIn the past the social web wasn't taken seriously as a business tool and little notice was taken of it by many. In that "no pressure" environment it was easier to be less formal, to take a few risks; if it didn't work out there was little consequence.

We have a completely different scenario now where social media is big business and people are paying attention - not just to what you say but also to what you don't. There are those also deliberately looking for slip-ups in order to use them to their advantage.

When it's a smaller group of "friends" you can be less guarded but now that the conversation is in front of the whole world some are playing it safe.

As the line goes in the film The Social Network: the internet isn't written in pencil, it's written in ink. We must be careful what we say online as anything could potentially come back to haunt us at a later date but we must, however, not forget what made social media work in the first place: the social aspect rather than just becoming another forum for the same old pitches.

But, it's not just those using the networks that are changing.

Rewriting the rules

Twitter now seems to be fighting to come to terms with its own success. It has been rewriting the rules for using its API for a little while now but the latest official party line is causing some consternation amongst developers and tech journalists alike.

We have seen Facebook rewrite the rules a number of times but, despite initial outcry, it has become what we expect from the social behemoth.

The key difference is that Facebook applications exist within the site itself, taking advantage of the large userbase in order to succeed whereas Twitter applications exist outside within the extended ecosystem and rely on that most precious commodity: data.

Gone is the cavalier, come what may attitude of yesteryear - Twitter is now big business and they want control. They want their data back.

This is one area where Facebook must be congratulated (believe it or not) - consistency. By being more closed and resisting the temptation to allow devs to build outside of the ecosystem we all know where we stand with Facebook - there are no broken promises in this regard.

Jesse Stay posts it's about time and, while he has a point that Twitter should control their ecosystem the problem is that it is possibly too late to start being so draconian. If Twitter wanted to take control they should have done so earlier but this was before the days of Dick Costolo and Twitters business plan.

I saw a post recently asking when the founder of a startup should be replaced by a professional CEO. I feel, this is as clear illustration as any you will get, that it must be done as soon as possible once you know you have a viable entity.

Money changes everything

As Rob Diana argues, Twitter is finally giving its ecosystem, and the developers that build on it, some much-needed direction but after 5 years of openness can they really close the doors and still expect people to be queueing up outside?

Ever since Twitter experienced an extended period of outages it has been said that we should not be placing our online lives in the hands of just one company. Many, spearheaded by the likes of Dave Winer, have been calling for an open, federated Twitter alternative - those calls have suddenly got louder.

Could Twitter's success threaten to also be its downfall? It can be argued that the exponential growth of twitter was due in no small part to the fact that the ecosystem was so open. The ability to read or post tweets from just about anywhere fueled the imagination.

Twitter encouraged developers to build on the platform in order to extend its reach and establish itself as the premier micro-blogging service. The API was written in such a way as to enable full use of data from anywhere but the realization has hit that this is not the way to be profitable.

Getting away with it

We have so much invested in the service that Twitter will get away with this new clamp down, just as Facebook has gotten away with a number of controversial events in its own history.

We don't have to like it, and may not agree with the approach taken, but the landscape is changing and we may no longer recognise all the landmarks on the way.

All that remains to be seen is if the new direction ultimately improves the ecosystem, if the new rules for a more consistent approach bear fruit; despite some initial pain we may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

Update: since posting this I have seen Mathew Ingram's post over at GigaOm which I urge you to read.

Image by slimmer_jimmer