These days we have again the discussion, about what is going on with Facebook. Mark Zuckerberg must explain his business model before a public committee. Many people are puzzled and wondering what exactly is being done with their personal data. Again and again it is argued that one could not really leave Facebook as long there is no alternative platform. Mark Zuckerberg himself explains to the US Congress that he only want to bring people together. He want to open a way to allow people sharing there thoughts and ideas. OK, this is an honorable goal. But what in basic did we need to achieve such a goal?
An Open Protocol
The concerns about the business model of Facebook, as well as the way in which our personal data is handled today, can be dispelled if we could use an open technical protocol to exchange and share information. Such an internet protocol could possible be defined by an open organisation like the IETF. Facebook could than implement this protocol to make clear to everyone what exactly is happening when you share information with your friends. And of course everyone would than be able to implement it’s own service, providing the same or even a better functionality as Facebook is offering today.
So what would be the core functions of such a protocol? It should be able to transmit information safely from one sender to one or more receivers. If we assume that even different service implementations exist worldwide, the protocol should also need to be able to send the same message to different service nodes (apps) located all over the world. Each service node could of course store the information. And from the user perspective, of course, I don’t want to register at any of these services to communicate with friends who live in another country or using a different app.
This sounds like a huge challenge that can only be overcome by the tech giants from Silicon Valley…
Could this be Solved?
You may already guess what I want to get out of. We already have an open Internet protocol that meet exact these requirements. This protocol is named Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) and is an Internet standard for electronic message transmission since 36 years! But what does SMTP do, and can it really keep up with Facebook?
SMTP is a standard which is based on the idea to define a unique user identifier based on its real name and the internet domain of some internet host. The host is the service endpoint where a user want its own message to be stored. This is independent if he or she sends or receives a message. It is not necessary for me to know on which service endpoint my friends store there own messages. I can send a message to a friend wherever he lives. This is called routing and the core function of the TCP/IP standard.
So with SMTP I can communicate with every person in the world as long as I know there user-ID. This is one of the noble goals covered by Facebook and explained by Mark Zuckerberg to the US congress. And this is not an invention by Mark Zuckerbereg himself as many young people today believe. It is the same functionality and based on exact the same idea – connecting people. That’s all of it.
What is the Disadvantage?
So what we need to discuss is the question: What is the Disadvantage of SMTP?
The first one is the coolness factor. I did not know any E-Mail client which is looking cool. Using an E-Mail client you must open each Message to see its content. In Facebook you see the content of all your messages by simply opening your account – that’s cool. In an E-Mail client you must open a new message window to send a message (ok there is something like a reply and forward function…). In Facebook you just need to type in a message into a smart box and press send. I am not sure, but I think it should be possible to write an e-mail client in that way too….
The second disadvantage is the lack of advertising. In general you can also use SMTP to generate spam. But as SMTP is a distributed concept, it would be possible for a single service provider to block such spam. This can easily be done and we have 36 years of experience in this. But for the advertising economy this is really not a cool feature.
But the last disadvantage of SMTP is maybe also the most important. It is the lack of centralization. Basically, the Internet was based on the concept of decentralization. This has something to do with the Cold War, that many young people don’t know. If you dezentralize the communication, the information is distributed and separated on infinite many different service nodes. And this concept makes it impossible to centrally analyze, aggregate and sell the data from all communication participants to the highest bidder.
So the final question is again: Who wants to connect people and who might want to just improve his own business…