Cassidy Williams

Software Engineer in Chicago

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Open standards, trust, and Google

Seeing Google kill off and sell Google Domains is such a big surprise to me. It shouldn’t be, given they’ve shut down waaay more than that. I’m still annoyed at them stopping the Google Code Jam competitions and Hangouts and G Suite and… way too many other services.

The domains service felt different, for some reason. It was something that it felt like they were investing a lot into (didn’t they just come out with the .zip TLD amongst others?) and that people were really trusting. And it made so much money! It served millions of domains!

But… it didn’t make enough money. Why have a business that can make millions of dollars when you can make billions on ads? It’s disheartening, but the bottom line is: Because Google is Google, the only thing that we as users can trust is that if they can make money with ads, the product is more likely to live, otherwise it’s going to die.

Google has sunk its teeth into our daily lives with Gmail and Google Calendar and YouTube and Drive (and more), and they’ve made these tools (amongst others, Google Domains included) really convenient. They all just work together, and their APIs are solid enough that third party developers can build off of them relatively easily. And because they own the APIs as a centralized system, developers are at the whim of whatever they decide to change. They can monetize it however they want, and control how content is served to an extent.

Now, don’t get me wrong, Google is not the only company that does this. Anyone can look at how Reddit and Twitter have changed things for their developers in the past few months because of the dependence on their APIs. Content creators are at the mercy of the platforms that service them, and if TikTok, Facebook/Meta, Spotify, Netflix, YouTube, Medium, Twitter, etc. change, creators have to work even harder to reach their audiences and tailor their content to The Algorithm.

All of this brings me to the topic of open standards. I listened to this 2021 podcast episode recently about the importance of open internet standards and it’s stuck in my brain as these big changes are announced. When you use communication software that is fully proprietary, you’re at the mercy of the creators of that software and how (and sometimes what) they want you to communicate. When you use software based on open standards, you’re able to more easily transfer how you communicate and work to other platforms if you want to.

Side note: open standards are different from open source, but both are good things, and here is an article about the differences between them.

Now, if you’re creating software, I’m sure you might be thinking, “why would I want to make it easy for someone to leave?” To that, I’d honestly probably respond snarkily with, “then just build better software,” heh. But real talk, it’s about building a good internet citizen. Think: A rising tide lifts all boats. When something is built with an open standard, that means it can be improved alongside that standard. When you contribute to the standard in addition to your own software, you’re benefitting everyone, which is ultimately good for your business.

Podcasting is a great example of this, being built on RSS. Listeners get to choose where they want to listen, creators get to choose where/how they want to host their shows, and developers get to choose how they support + build on top of features. Plus, RSS has gotten some great improvements thanks to the podcast ecosystem! There’s so many more examples like this that deserve credit, using HTTP and JMAP and WebRTC and mooore. The stability of the open standard enables innovation!

Anyway, because of all of these services being killed recently, I personally have been looking to switch away from Google and other softwares that I rely on that don’t use open standards, so that I can feel a bit safer about my data. I admit it’s fairly challenging (Google Calendar is the only thing supported by most of the scheduling apps I like, ugh, and some things don’t have an open standard to work with). But, I hope app devs out there see what’s happening as a result of closed systems, and move towards building more in the open and helping push standards forward. Or building new ones!

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