Of all the structural problems “Web 2” has brought into the world — and there are too many to list — one of the most vexing is what I call the “meta-services” problem. Today’s commercial internet encourages businesses and services to create silos of our data — silos that can not and will not connect to each other. Because of business model constraints (most big services are “free,” revenues come from advertising and/or data sales), it’s next to impossible for anyone — from an individual consumer to a Fortune 50 enterprise — to create lasting value across all those silos. Want to compare your Amazon purchase history to prices for the same goods at Walmart? Good luck! Want to compare the marketing performance of your million-dollar campaigns between Facebook and Netflix? LOL!
For the past 15 or so years, I’ve written about a new class of “meta-services” that would work across individual sites, apps, and platforms. Working on our behalf, these meta-services would collect, condition, protect, and share our information, allowing a new ecosystem of services and value to be unlocked. OpenAI’s recent announcement of plugins, along with their already robust APIs, has brought the meta-service fantasy tantalizingly close to reality. But it’s more likely that, just as with the “open internet,” the fantasy will remain just that. Internet business models have been built to collect short term rent. Truly open systems rarely win over time — regardless of whether the company uses the word “open” in its name.
But maybe — just maybe — this time could be different. After all, it’s happened a few times before — once with the printing press, and again in the mid 1990s, with the birth of the Internet itself.
So what’s it going to be?
I Dream of Genies
I’ve admired the meta-service problem endlessly -here’s a wishful post from twelve years ago:
While a year ago I’d only see a “service connection” happen between an app and Facebook or Twitter, lately I’ve noticed such connections happening all over the place — with LinkedIn, Google, Foursquare, and many others. I think it’s only a matter of time — and not much of it — before we have a “metaservice” hit on our hands — an entirely new and delightful service that…