This announcement — the one about Facebook partnering with a bunch of other companies that are going to make widgets — is one of those pieces of technology news that’s kinda hella boring to read about, but reflects a really interesting macro-level dynamic in the evolution of Web 2.0.
I find it helpful to think about these huge Web communities as countries, each of which has to manage its foreign relations (i.e. its openness to interactions with other websites) and its domestic policy (i.e. what community members can and can’t do). Both are balancing the human need for civil liberty with the countervaling need that any political state has for order. Facebook has historically been tight on policing its borders and maintaining civil order — I think of it kinda like medieval Japan — but with this new development it’s showing signs of loosening up. MySpace is more like the U.S. right now: huge, free’n’easy and chaotic on the inside, and reasonably relaxed about its borders, with a few exceptions. (I think its history of openness is exactly the reason people freak out when MySpace does introduce restrictions, like the ones that apply to the ad-supported video site Revver.)
I figure once the real-world federal government inevitably crumbles, we’ll just be left with massive online communities as our primary political affiliations. MySpace and Facebook will become distributed nation-states along the lines of Neal Stephenson’s burbclaves in Snow Crash. Let the new Cold War commence.
(As a side-note, the co-founders of MySpace stopped by the Time offices last week for an off-the-record chat. They claim that 12% of all time spent on the Web is spent at MySpace. Yeesh.)