I recently read two blog posts on Microsoft's VisitMix site recently which show how conflicted large Web players can be about embracing the fact that The Web is the Platform. The first is a blog post by Scott Barnes entitled Rich Interactive Applications which contains the following excerpt

When you think of RIA what is it your mind casts an image to first?
RIA isn't about attention/eyeballs, it's supposed to be focused on empowering end users of a defined type, to carry out mundane task through an enriching user experience. User Experience is the key, in that a true RIA solution has the power to abstract complexity through aggregation or 360 degree view(s) of content without altering context.
That is Rich Interactive Application (RIA) shifting the paradigm. It had nothing to do with the Internet, suffice to say it's housed within an agent which is connected to the Internet - or - Intranet.

This blog post was the first time I've seen the term RIA defined as Rich Interactive Application instead of Rich Internet Application. Digging a little, it becomes obvious that Scott Barnes's post is just one of many in an ongoing flame war war of words between developer evangelists at Microsoft and developer evangelists at Adobe.

Redefining a term in such a way that it becomes all-inclusive is a recipe for devaluing the term [which might be Scott's purpose]. This is the lesson from the all-inclusive definitions that started to swirl around industry terms like Service Oriented Architecture and Web 2.0. More importantly, the problem with using the term "Rich Interactive Application" to define what developers commonly describe as RIAs is that it completely misses the point. Developers and end users are not excited about the ability to build and use rich interactive applications, they are excited about being able to build and use rich interactive applications on the Web. They've had the former for as long as desktop computers have existed, the latter is what is currently jazzing people up (e.g. all the hype around AJAX, Flickr, YouTube, the Facebook platform, etc).

Don't fight the Web. People don't get excited about "interactive" desktop applications. When was the last time your best friend, mom, daughter, sister, co-worker, etc told you about some cool desktop app they just found or use regularly? How does that compare that to the amount of times they've told about cool Web sites they found or use regularly?

Think about that for a second, Mr. Rich Interactive Application. Embrace the Web or you will be left behind.

Onto Joshua Allen's post entitled Web is THE Platform? SRSLY? which states

Erick Schonfeld at TechCrunch reports on Google's presentation today at Web 2.0 Conference.  Jeff Huber of Google, trying to slam Facebook and MySpace, said "A lot that you have heard here is about platforms and who is going to win. That is Paleolithic thinking. The Web has already won. The web is the Platform. So let’s go build the programmable Web."

I was rather surprised, because I heard that same line just two days ago, from Dare Obasanjo.  Jeff apparently reads Dare's blog, and was in a hurry to prepare his speech.
When I hear someone talk about the web as a platform, I have a pretty clear picture:

  • Utilizes open standards, preferably mature specifications and preferably from W3C
  • Utilizes web client runtime that has massive deployment; depends only on functionality that can be found in the majority of browsers
  • Runs the same no matter who is hosting the code

This is non-negotiable!  When any normal person writes "for the web", this is what she means! 

Joshua goes on to cite Google for hypocrisy because it's widget platform is every bit as proprietary as those of MySpace and Facebook, and Google's doesn't use any of the ad-hoc standards for exposing social graph data in a shareable way (FOAF, XFN, etc).

Although all the things Joshua lists are important, they aren't what I was really harping on when I wrote the post referenced by Joshua. The problem with the Facebook platform is that although you can use it to build Web applications, they are not on the Web. What do I mean by being on the Web? Here's a sampling of writings from across the Web that does a better of job of explaining this than I ever could

Tim Berners-Lee

When I invented the Web, I didn't have to ask anyone's permission. Now, hundreds of millions of people are using it freely.

Jason Kottke

Faced with competition from this open web, AOL lost...running a closed service with custom content and interfaces was no match for the wild frontier of the web. Maybe if they'd done some things differently, they would have fared better, but they still would have lost. In competitive markets, open and messy trumps closed and controlled in the long run.

Anil Dash

It's not true to say that Facebook is the new AOL, and it's oversimplification to say that Facebook's API is the new Blackbird, or the new Rainman. But Facebook is part of the web. Think of the web, of the Internet itself, as water. Proprietary platforms based on the web are ice cubes. They can, for a time, suspend themselves above the web at large. But over time, they only ever melt into the water.