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Facebook and data portability: opening up to the wider network?


Facebook's shocked geekdom by joining with Google and a bunch of social networks in a group (the catchily named DataPortability Working Group) to set open standards that will allow people to move personal data (iincluding contacts) from one platform to another.

As Techcrunch puts it:

Today, by joining the DataPortability Working Group Facebook is embracing open standards and open access, and that is a huge fundamental change from its previous stance on being locked in to closed standards....

There has been no shortage of people who have knocked Facebook for their closed standards prior to today, perhaps many of whom had a legitimate point. Today Facebook has taken the first step towards open standards and data portability, and despite those previous gripes they should be congratulated for it.

This looks like a step in the right direction for sure, but has the social network learnt enough from its missteps in the past to start thinking users-first?

Well, the first place I had to look for some commentary on this was  Umair Haque, given his emphatic arguments that "Facebook is evil". Well he predicted it but he's less blown away than many in the Techmeme crowd:

No matter how lame and evil Facebook is, no matter how behind the curve Google is - these moves are written into the structure of the edgeconomy. Google and Facebook had to make them, and will continue to have to make them - there no real alternative.

Yeah, yeah - they just joined the group, nothing's really changed yet, etc. Don't miss the forest for the trees - there's a deeper economic logic at work here: my data is (far) more valuable when it can be remixed with yours....

Think about it this way: if either Facebook or Google had followed either of the Edge Principles we've been discussing in this case (good beats evil, open beats closed), how much better off would they be - and, consequently, how much better off would everyone be? A very, very large amount.

He also helpfully recaps on his analysis last week on the economics of data:

Data is inherently valueless in the edgeconomy, because it's infinitely replicable. Any structure seeking to limit access to data will simply be too radically inefficient for the market to bear in the medium-long run. So a massconomy strategy of "owning" a massive stock of data is destined to crash and burn.

Rather, what is valuable is being plugged into (and plugging others into) the right flows of data. That's what Google does. You ask, I bid - flows. It's what Facebook refuses to do.

You can't own the network, even if - like Facebook - you built a large-ish sub-network within it and keep it a bit closed off. To find value you need to be connected to, prominent in, useful to, live and on the scene in your networks...

Anyway, it's a step forward for social media generally that this group has been formed and that some of the biggest networks are joining it. I've sometimes thought of some social networks as the nursery slopes of social media where alot of people will get their first experiences of living in online networks and from there begin to find more of the other (open) services on the wider network that is the social web.


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