In the 90s, everyone used car analogies to discuss technology. In 2014, it’s all food analogies.— Tom Dale (@tomdale) June 1, 2014
Luckily, food is not the only option. Let’s talk about animals. We call the web an ecosystem after all, so let’s see what biodiversity means in this context and how it is key to both how our animals are built and how they work together. The past couple months have shown how weak the web is and how quickly what we can take for granted is actually closer to extinction.
Pretty much everybody agrees that the decreasing number of species of insects, mammals, birds and more is a bad thing. Of course, at first, it’s just a bit sad that we don’t get to see live dodos. Then, but it quickly becomes worrysome that some species of fish are simply vanishing from our seas: what are we going to eat? And it’s terrifying that bees altogether are going away.
Animals work together as a chain (not just a food chain!) to make the world the way it is, and if too many links in that chain are going away, it becomes harder for some species to feed themselves, or even worse, for things as basic as plants to spread and evolve.
The web currently suffers from a similar threat. The diversity of experiences on the web is decreasing. Not only people tend to visit less and less sites, but the aquisition frenzy lead by some of the biggest players in the web ecosystem eventually leads to less diversity in the products we use every day. Another trend is also the normalization of the experiences.
Not only every Facebook profile look the same, but it’s getting harder to distinguish a Facebook profile from a G+ profile from a Twitter profile: a profile picture, a banner, a reverse chronological order of “posts”, a couple tabs, a left colunm with details on the user…
Additionally, the largest players of the ecosystem, tend to grow more and more at the expense of their ecosystem, working less and less with smaller players, not interracting with them as much as they should, closing APIs, almost “duplicating” content from other players into their own systems.
This lack of diversity leads to a lack of creativity and eventually to a lack of competition. If everything is the same, why use another product?
Another, maybe even worse problem of diversity exists in the animal kingdom: the lack of diversity in the DNA. Scientists and researches have proven over and over that the resilience of any animal population is directly correlated to the genetic diversity. In other words, the more different ‘versions’ of the building bricks exist, the stronger the population.
Many species have actually disappeared for the sole reason that their genetic material was not diverse enough to ensure survival of the species, and many more are threatened. Preserving this ‘internal’ diversity has long been one of the concerns for humans at all times and is still one of the reasons why it is not recommanded for siblings and cousins to have kids together: it significantly increases the risk of genetic defects.
The web suffers even more from this lack of diversity. There are countless anecdotes around that:
- IE’s supremacy of the web browsers in the early 2000’s was a very strong barrier to any kind of innovation in the browsers.
- Apache has for the longest time been the most dominant web server and its security issues have been a threat to huge chunks of the web
- The recent Heartbleed bug vulnerability had such an impact because OpenSSL is almost the only option when it comes to SSL.
Needless to say that there will obviously be more problems due to this lack of webdiversity. Here’s an example:
The fact that an incredible number of websites use the same tools for analtics means for example that if someone were to hijack the DNS of Google Analytics, even at a relatively small scale (ISP, region, country), they would be able to break an incredible amount of websites (or steal user data!).
10 years ago, researches have proven that genetic diversity and species diversity are actually closely correlated. Applied to the web, that means that by decreasing the amount of libraries, protocols, components used by our applications, we tend to build less applications. And by using less web applications and services, we also to starve the builders of the building blocks which are not used by the giants.
Exactly like for the animals, it’s not too late! Every day, when we pick and app, let’s give a chance to the smaller one, let’s make sure we don’t only advertise and use the giants. Similarly, when we build amazing apps and services, let’s question the status quo and let’s stop picking tools because everybody else uses that. This is the only way to grow the webdiversity and make our web stronger, more resilient and innovative!