At one point or another, most everyone has used America Online’s instant messaging service AIM. Chances are, one or both of your parents still do. After recently being acquired by Verizon, AOL has decided to shut down their infamous messaging service on December 15th.
Many years ago, the FCC approved a merger between AOL and Time Warner with several conditions. As part of the deal, AOL was required to make its web portal compatible with other chat apps. They stopped AOL from building a closed system whereby forcing them to adopt interoperability—to be compatible with other computer systems. The FCC required AOL to make its portal compatible with one rival immediately after the merger and at least two other rivals within six months, or face penalties.
The FCC’s decision changed how we communicate with each other on the internet. By forcing AIM to make room for competition, a range of messaging apps and services, as well as social networks emerged. Instead of being limited to AIM, people who used AOL’s portal could choose other platforms.
With over 2 billion monthly users, many view Facebook as having egregious control over our relationships on the internet. If it were forced to make room for other services on its platform in the same way AOL made room for other chat apps, new services could emerge.
Of course, people can opt out of Facebook and choose to use other, smaller social networks. But those businesses are essentially unable to thrive because of the hold Facebook has on how we communicate online. All our friends and family are already on Facebook, and because the platform is not regulated to allow competition, it’s incredibly difficult for other, newer ones to emerge.
Trying to build a competitor to Facebook in 2017 just doesn’t make sense. It would be like starting a competitor to your local water company. If Facebook were to actually compete in the market, it might die too. And in its place, something better, or at least different, could emerge.