The web was created to knock down walls. You could create a page on a Unix workstation in Switzerland that could be viewed perfectly on a Windows laptop in California, all thanks to the miracle of common formats and open standards. But lately it seems like the big social networks are doing their best to undermine this sort of compatibility and to integrate products vertically much as behemoths like IBM and DEC did 40 years ago.
The latest evidence of this came in a series of striking announcements over the past week, as Facebook, Twitter and Google+ took steps to fortify their own photo apps and features at the cost of competitors’. Though the issue of web photo compatibility was solved 19 years ago, when browsers like Mosaic and Netscape standardized on the GIF and then JPEG file formats, the top three social networks are putting lots of money and effort into building end-to-end pipelines in which one company’s software controls everything from activating the camera to polishing the image to uploading the photo to setting access rights and finally publishing – not necessarily to the web, mind you, but to gated-off private networks that merely resemble the web.