How to overcome de-facto monopolies? Force social networks to provide open APIs/ to support open standards enabling interoperability with other platforms?

The only reason why I joined facebook is because the others were already there. If there had been a way to interact with the same group without joining facebook, I probably wouldn’t have done so. Just as I don’t have to open a separate email account to send mail to recipients on the same server.

I therefore wonder if the same isn’t doable for socal networking platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. At least for their messaging, they did support the XMPP protocol until some years ago (just as Google did), therefore my Jabber client was able to communicate with Facebook and Google Talk addresses. They all discontinued it, presumably because to maximize their user count, they had to reinforce the walls around their gardens.

For the Facebook and twitter timelines, there has been no such openness at any time. Yet there are examples of federated networks such as Diaspora and the Fediverse of Mastodon and GNUsocial servers, where no single of them has the power to monopolize the network. For now, the incentive to use any of them is very small, because even if I set up an account at a Diaspora pod or a Mastodon server, none of my contacts is going to be there, and I have no way of reaching them.

I wonder if it would be technically possible (I guess it is) to have a standardized API through which users of Facebook, Twitter and of Fediverse servers could follow each other, share content etc. Since this is possible for servers within the Fediverse, it should be doable to have a similar mechanism for interaction between them and the big players. But of course, this would only become reality, if enforced by legislation.

What do you think of this? To me this appears to be the solution for the monopoly problem, but maybe I am overlooking something.


Nice idea, some locality should try to pass such a law. However I think Facebook could simply cease all operations in that locality rather than cooperate.

Not if that locality was the EU or the USA I think. But I guess it would take a huge sustained lobbying effort to get such legislation passed in either of those places. And to build any momentum, the idea first would have to win popular support in those countries. In any case, wouldn’t it just be doing in the digital space what anti monopoly regulations do for the real world? So it may sound unusual, but actually it is not.

In Germany where I live we for instance saw the de-monopolization of the rail and telecommunication sectors, and none of this works unless you have regulation forcing the former monopolyto observe the standards which ensure interoperability and thus ensure that others can participate in the market. For instance, German Rail is forced (I think) to include the trains operated by their competitors into their timetables and information systems. A phone operator cannot just reject all incoming calls from another operator etc. Also, when you operate your own solar panels and generate excess power, the grid operator has to accept the power you feed into the grid (and pay for it). So this has been done before. Why not do the same for social networks?