Burger Analogy

Aaron Toponce has just written a blog post about online services and how he doesn’t view proprietary online services as a problem. The analogy he uses is that of a Burger joint where the meals and service are excellent and all the recipes are trade secretes.

I wanted to take a moment and explain why a Burger fast-food restaurant is a very poor analogy with proprietary online services. I don’t want to go into whether online services are good or bad, as always that’s an exercise for the reader.

What’s the best way to show a bad analogy? Make it look silly: Imagine if eating where like facebook.

  1. Food can only be eaten if you’re with 100 of your friends
  2. Everyone only dines at a single restaurant for their entire lives
  3. You can’t eat at home, because 100 friends wouldn’t fit and they don’t like your cooking anyway
  4. The recipes aren’t just trade secretes*, their copyrighted. Attempting to describe the taste to someone else can get you 10 years in jail under the Diners Millennium Copyright Act.
  5. There is only a single burger place in every country
  6. Because of network effects it operates a total monopoly on what people eat
  7. The service is tailored for the lowest common denominator
  8. And it poisons every customer because it can effectively leverage it’s size with the FDA.
  9. Half of your friends you eat with every day constantly want you to play the burger game and do so by kicking you in the shin under the table.

These are just some of the silly results that come out of trying to fit the idea of ‘restaurant’ into the idea of ‘software on the Internet’ there could be more.

I think my point here is that proprietary software, including proprietary services are anti-social. Not just rude, when taking into account the network effects. With monopoly mechanics we end up with systems which control us instead of the other way round and the only solution we’ve found as a society to extract ourselves from tar-babies like Facebook and those that came before is a total and aggressive cultural shift from one product to another. A revolution where your job is to convince your friends and family to stop using MySpace.

It’s tiring being a revolutionary for a corporation.

Ultimately I resent being required to use certain products and I resent having to resent my friends and family because they’re using certain high network effect internet-garden-esk services and require me to join them. I shouldn’t need to feel that way and no company should be allowed to insert itself into society in such a way as to make the choice between freedom and friendship an either-or proposition.


* Ironically recipes can’t be copyrighted, they’re public domain as soon as they’re published. Embellishments and prose can be though, so don’t go copying recipe books with copy and paste.