Will the real 'Switzerland' of the Social Web please stand-up

Although he wasn't completely satisfied with his testing of the service, Robert Scoble sees Plaxo as the "new Switzerland of social networks." Wrote Scoble (he has video too):I really want to love the new Plaxo.

Although he wasn't completely satisfied with his testing of the service, Robert Scoble sees Plaxo as the "new Switzerland of social networks." Wrote Scoble (he has video too):

I really want to love the new Plaxo. The 18-minute demo I got last week is awesome — see it embedded above....

...It’s now a Web service. In fact you can use Plaxo without loading any software. All to manage your contacts. For someone like me that still has most of my contacts in Outlook the new Plaxo is a godsend. It lets me move my contacts, my calendar data, and other things out of Outlook and onto other platforms.

You can move things over to Google, AIM, Yahoo, the Mac’s iCal, and a variety of other applications and cell phones.

So, what was the old "Switzerland"? (the people of Switzerland must hate this metaphor by now) . Last month, Scoble posted a video of a demonstration of Zude.com that he recorded while at the Web 2.0 Conference and at 20:35 into the video, Fifth Generation Systems CEO Jim McNiel (parent to Zude) asks Scoble if he'd seen my coverage where I referred to Zude as the Switzerland of the social Web:

JM: Do you know Dave Berlind

Scoble: Yah.

JM: Did you see what he said about it?

Scoble: No.

JM: He called us the Switzerland of the social Web

Scoble: Ahhhh. He's a good guy.

Thanks Robert. The kind words are appreciated. The feeling is mutual. McNiel was referring to the video demo and blog I posted here on ZDNet under the heading Zude's drag n' drop Web authoring/remixing make it the Switzerland of the social Web.

So, is Zude out and Plaxo in as the reigning "Switzerland?"

The better question is, as more and more services are easily (often programmatically) connected to other entities (be it another service on the Web or some locally hosted software like Outlook) through application programming interfaces (or by way of drag n' drop a la Zude), what isn't turning out to be a Switzerland? Once a service's core features are programmatic, that service's ability to become a Switzerland ends up in the hands of the developers and users who will make of it what they will. For some, the results will be Switzerland-like. For others, not.

In fact, metaphorically, to be Switzerlandesque is more a mindset or culture than it is technology. Looking back on when Fifth Generation first started talking about Zude publicly, the most important value to the founders was its openness. They were looking around at other social networks - MySpace being the clearest example -- and watching as the garden walls went up.

To, in anti-Switzerland-esque fashion, purposely disable widgetry from Photobucket, Eventful (forcing those services to find work-arounds) and other services isn't a technology issue. It's a policy issue and Fifth Generation's McNiel saw that as an opportunity for Zude and the result was a service that, in true social fashion, be the hub of all your social presences on the Web, be they in MySpace, FaceBook, Flickr, Wordpress, etc. Zude doesn't ask you to give those up. Instead, keep working with them and give the people in your social network a single place to go to experience all of them. With Zude, you can just drag your entire MySpace site into your Zude site -- a.k.a. a "Zudesphere" -- and nothing changes. You get to continue working with your various social sites the way you always did and your friends don't have to click all over the Web to find them.

Likewise, the being Switzerland-esque is a culture and policy issue for Plaxo. Plaxo has long-offered APIs to developers who could then incorporate them into their applications and mashups as they saw fit. That's pretty Switzerland-esque and being that way start with a decision at the top. Like with Zude, making it happen however may require an offering of canned integration that doesn't require the skills of an API rocket scientist. Plaxo was brilliant to can its integration in a way that mere mortals can do what was once strictly the domain of developers and as time goes by, you can expect to see more of this from other solution providers.

So has Plaxo usurped Zude? Obviously not. There are plenty of other Switzerlands out there and more coming. Plaxo and Zude are different enough that they can both be Switzerlands in their own right. Clearly, as the MySpace's and FaceBooks get hip to the fact that people want freedom (and not walled gardens), they'll have no choice but to change ideologies or risk irrelevance. After that, the only issue then is who makes it easier to harness those Switzerland-like capabilities.

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