Dependence vs. Independence. That's the choice.

The matter of Scoble vs. Facebook is not about either. It's about the deeper choice we face in all the relationships we choose on the Net: the choice between dependence and independence.

There will always be dependencies. Working out dependencies is one of the oldest hats in software. But there's a difference between the technical and the personal. It's one thing to make sure Apache's working with Linux and quite another to make sure our social network's working with Facebook.

What matters about Scoble's experience with Facebook (and vice versa) isn't What Happened, or whether either party is being smart or dumb or good or evil. What matters is that Scoble, like millions of others, has put part of his life — and those of others to which he is socially connected — in a position of dependency on Facebook.

The arguments we should be having are not about how to make that dependency work, but how to make Scoble and the rest of us as independent as possible from every large private concern on the Net, no matter how public the good they produce may be.

Independence is a value that has run like a river, not just through the Open Source movement, but through the Independent Developer movement, the Free Software movement, and through hacker culture for the duration. Its origins are in value systems that recognize the transcendent virtues of personal freedom. Including the freedom of assembly that results in social groupings — especially those that are inherently elective. To be free is to opt in, not just out.

Scoble should be able to take his personal data, his social data, and his business, anywhere he likes. Our ability to associate and communicate and work out "social networking" should be independent of Facebook, LinkedIn, or any company's walled garden.

The problem is, we have not framed what we want, and what we invent, sufficiently in terms of independence rather than dependence. We have not started with ourselves and worked outward and otherward from there. Instead we've waited for the Facebooks and Orkuts and Friendsters of the world to prototype our "social networks" for us. Which is fine, as far as it goes. But that's like letting AT&T or Apple some other company contintue to define operating systems for us. With BSD and Linux we stopped doing that, and started making for ourselves.

We need to do the same with social networking.

"Choice", Neo said to the Architect. "The problem is choice".

We can choose to serve as batteries in the Matrix that is Facebook (and every other "social network" that serves as a world-like habitat). Or we can choose to be free. That's it.

[Later...] Speaking of indepencence, here's a bonus link I found by putting "independence" in the Firefox location bar and hitting "enter".


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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We want open social network.

weakish's picture

Email is open. IM is not open but everyone can run a jabber server.

What's next? I guess we can run our own Second Life server in the near future.

I hope one day social network can be open too.

As a gmail user, I never worry about someone who use hotmail cannot send a mail to me. And again, as a gtalk user, I never worry about cannot talk to me. I hope one day a facebook user can communicate with hir friends at myspace, orkut, etc.

Maybe this won't happen in the near future, but I believe one day this will happen.


Anonymous's picture

There's a flaw in your logic and your understanding of independence.

The independence with regard to operating systems comes from the choice in which we prefer to deploy for our own purpose. To suggest that we ourselves have control over the creation and development of Linux as an example of a parallel with social networking is quite incorrect. Linux was the brainchild of one man, a man who is still actively involved in its development and in fact controls its direction and leads thinking on its development.
If we as individuals choose to select Linux as our operating system of choice, we are in effect selecting a product which has been pre-ordained for us in the same way as a proprietary product, the difference being that we can use and distribute or modify it should we have the skill or inclination to do so.
Very few of us have the skill to delve into the depths of an operating system, hence the suggestion of independence is a myth. From the moment any of us selects Linux, we are dependent on the skills and commitment of those who behind the scene who maintain and develop the operating system on our behalf.

With regard to social networking, we can if we choose, not become involved in any on-line networking. The traditional methods of boy meets girls still work as far as I can see and business relies on traditional methods every day. The important thing is that you have the choice with whom and to what extent you become involved. Web sites such as facebook simply provide a vehicle and as we all have different ideas on how to provide that vehicle, the site will represent simply that individuals ideas. But it's you who ultimately makes the choice.


Hroberts's picture

Not long ago I couldn't have told you what in the world a blog was. As far as I knew, it was some funky new slang term kids had thought up. Maybe it had something to do with or But, then I spotted a detailed article on "what is blogging?" In no time I understood the fairly new-age concept that really blew up in 2005. Blogging is where it's at! Furthermore, you may have created a blog or two and not even knew you were doing it at the time. At this point I indulge in blog sites all the time. Maybe I'm there just to get a few pointers regarding a household repair, or maybe I'm there to earn some extra cash.

Millions of people are still asking the silly question, "what is blogging?" It's funny, but my own teenage daughter didn't know what this contemporary Internet writing was. Blogging is a form of communication that you'll find on the web. And the cool part is, anyone can create or respond to a blog. Just the other day I was searching through cyberspace for an answer to my recent plumbing dilemma. The steel plug in my shower drain was busted and I wanted to remove it to install a new one, but without calling a plumber. Yeah, I'm sure plenty of people can relate to this. We live in an era of "do it yourself." There are even TV shows and websites contributing to this notion. So that's what I wanted to do. I purchased the new shower drain stopper, and had to figure out how to remove the broken one. Suddenly I found a wonderful blog about removing the shower drain basket. I was stoked! Someone like myself had started a blog and posed the question. Then several people answered with helpful blog replies. I ended up removing my shower drain basket just fine, and was proud after I had the new one installed properly. Talk about saving some cash!

At this point, you no longer have to ask the question "what is blogging?" It's simple writing on the Internet. You can start a blog on any topic you choose, and you can respond to any blog you find. Try free websites like and begin blogging to earn a little extra dough. This cool website allows you to create blogs, place free Google ads on them, and earn ad revenue when web surfers click on the ads. Blogging is the way of the future! At the least, you can acquire all sorts of new information from people's blogs.

I agree

Aswath's picture

I said something like that: Swaraj now! Swaraj forever! (

My e-mail address doesn't belong to my Facebook friends

Greg Yardley's picture

I chose to display my e-mail address to my network on Facebook only because it was turned into an image first - I don't want to see it publicly anywhere in plain text. This keeps it easily accessible to humans for personal use, but not scraping fodder for a hundred anonymous robots. (Unless companies like Plaxo deliberately decide to violate the obvious implications of email-as-image by developing character recognition software to bypass it - an act which publicly brands them as jerks.)

So where do Scoble's rights end and mine begin, Doc? I really don't want my data shuffled around to every online service of questionable security and ethics, just because a couple of my friends are promiscuous data sluts and seem to think what's mine is theirs.

Beginings and ends

Doc Searls's picture

I think Scoble's rights begin outside the perimeters of your conditional usage covenants, which -- as you put it -- are in the form of "obvious implications".

Not that Scoble or Plaxo or anybody wandering through Facebook (or anywhere) isn't free to act like a jerk. It's pretty easy to disrespect obvious implications in the online world.

All of which is saying we're far from having this stuff worked out.

To review, my points were:

1) It's wrong to expect Facebook to work problems out for us, especially if the solution only works inside Facebook.

2) As independent, autonomous and sovereign beings in this shared space, we need to start working this stuff out for ourselves, outside of any big company's dependency system.

I think some of that is starting to happen, especially in the overlapping Identity and VRM spaces. But I also think we have a long way to go.

Too many (hell, nearly all) of us still look toward Google or Amazon or Microsoft or Facebook or some other Big Guy to solve the big problems for us. I'm no less guilty than the next geek, either. I am greatly relieved to be rid of spam the only way I know that mostly works, which is by running it through google's Gmail mill. But at least I'm still maintaining a degree of independence just knowing that I can drop Gmail like a bad transmission whenever I like, and go back to getting my mail directly from or wherever. And kudos to Google for recognizing that as well.

There are huge problems we still need to work out. In the physical world, we could give our business cards to 500 people and hardly worry about somebody abusing the information on those cards, mostly because there would be too much friction involved in committing the abuse. But in the networked world, distance between any two persons, or any two nodes, rounds to zero. And so does the threshold of action, good and bad.

How do we build the new sociology here? With "friending" that is the online equivalent of walking up to an acquaintance on the street and yelling 'YOU ARE MY FRIEND! YES OR NO!' in their face? That's primitive shit, but it's as far as we've come.

Long way to go.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

Cart Before the Horse?

Shawn Powers's picture

Interestingly enough, I think there are large groups, or communities, crying for a common way to connect. Like I mentioned before, I have a large group of "digital acquaintances" that I often connect with professionally. I think the Facebooks of the world are trying to shoehorn into that natural tendency for community. I think the need is so great, the sites are successful (not ideal, but successful in numbers if anything).

I think it's likely the next stage of evolution that started with email, grew into instant messaging, and is even more widely expanding to larger groups is on it's way. I think your Gmail example is spot on -- Gmail is a tool to manage the "free" email protocol. I don't even mind paying for the tools, as long as I have the option to choose any darn tool I want.

Instant messaging (and SMS and the like) I think will come to that same point soon enough. Jabber is a huge step in that direction with it's gateway ability. Yes, the integration of all instant messaging hasn't happened, but I think we're quickly coming to that point.

Last, and most recent, we have the whole "social network" thing. It's in it's infancy, and is so diverse and un-connected, that really it's just not what I depend on to network with others. I also don't avoid such things altogether -- I twitter (I even follow you, Doc, although you don't follow me, ya big lunk...), and I dabble in the social networking sites, but I don't consider it mature enough to depend on for much more than a novelty. This is largely because I'm an open source guy at heart, and I don't want to be forced into a proprietary solution. In a few years, if I want to choose Facebook to access the social Internet, great. If I want to use something else -- I'd like to have that choice.

Ok, I'll hush for now, but I've been watching for a while, and will continue to watch how Facebook, et al. finally shake out.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

Cart, horse, chickens, eggs, agriculture, culture...

Doc Searls's picture

Good points all, Shawn, and no need to hush . Keep it up, if you like. Hey, we're being social here, right? I mean, in reality — and in a garden with the lowest practical walls we can muster.

At the end of Annie Hall, Woody Allen addresses his audience directly, and says, I thought of that old joke, y'know, the, this... this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, "Doc, uh, my brother's crazy; he thinks he's a chicken." And, uh, the doctor says, "Well, why don't you turn him in?" The guy says, "I would, but I need the eggs." Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships; y'know, they're totally irrational, and crazy, and absurd, and... but, uh, I guess we keep goin' through it because, uh, most of us... need the eggs.

Facebook and the rest of them are our egg-making brothers. Do we need them? How much? And in what ways? And for how long? And what happens once they get sane? All good questions.

And you know what people really mean when they say "That's a good question?" It means they don't have the answer.

So the best we can do is keep asking and keep inventing.

Okay, time to pack now and drive to Vegas.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

What does it look like?

Shawn Powers's picture

Doc, I love your philosophical pieces like this, and I get excited at the same types of thoughts. I wonder, out loud as it were, what that freedom will look like. What will that independent social networking look like?

I see independence take place in the long haul with things like email (rather vendor non-specific), and even with instant messaging (Jabber, or even clients that integrate the protocols, like pidgin or adium). What will the independent social network look like? I'm anxious to see, because it's the geeky social networks that help me professionally. In my last article, for instance, I explain that the group of Linux professionals in my social group give me the ability to do my very job!

So yes, I'm anxious to see how the facebook/myspace/second_life/etc things gain some independence, because I want to be on that train.

Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.

What does it look like?

Doc Searls's picture

I think independent social networks look less like membership clubs and more like the informal unseen erector-sets that real-life social networks comprise.

I don't know how to formalize that. Yet.

I am sure it will have to be built around tools and "API"s and connectable pieces that belong to individuals. Maybe they take the form of policies and protocols, or metaphors such as cards. But whatever it is, it'll have to connect individuals first, and in elective ways. Even nuanced ways.

That's why the clunky systems used by Facebook and everybody else are stil woefully inadequate. They are saying "we have ways of making you relate".

Meanwhile, I'm free do avoid those, which I mostly do.

Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal

self explanitory. Just

SadPhuck's picture

self explanitory. Just check this site.

While I'm a Dana Carvey fan...

Shawn Powers's picture

I rather enjoyed the movie "The Master of Disguise" -- but I am genuinely interested in talking about the issue, feel free not to do so yourself. :)

Unless you mean that the social networking sites in general need to "STFU", in which case, I'd be willing to discuss that as well. Things like MySpace, FaceBook, and such the like do have a dark side that I all too often experience at the school district in which I work.

Social networking independence, however, is interesting (at least to me).


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.