by Brian Solis

I purposely chose not to write about Facebook’s temporary suspension of Robert Scoble this week because I knew he was testing a Plaxo service that would violate the network’s terms of service.

Plus, there were so many incorrect stories about the events leading up to and following Facebook’s “automatic” move that it was futile to proactively correct everyone.

In summary, people cried that…

- Robert should be able to do whatever he wants, since it’s his contacts anyway.

- Robert shouldn’t have the ability to do anything, since he agreed to the terms of services to use Facebook. And, Facebook is not his company, therefore he either plays by the rules or he leaves the service.

- Empowerment vs. Entitlement and how people need to stop whining and start following the rules. Oh, but if they want to change things, then they should say “why” instead of starting a revolution first.

- Should Gmail, Yahoo, and Hotmail Block Facebook?

Every post I read seemed to miss the bigger discussion.

First, Scoble didn’t do anything wrong.

It wasn’t until Michael Arrington pointed out that it was actually Plaxo’s fault for triggering Facebook’s response, did people really start to understand the bigger discussion here – who owns “your” social graph?

Enter the DataPortability Work Group, an organization dedicated to the ubiquitous sharing and remixing of data. Basically, this is a movement that is long in the making and just ripe for traction. I can remember Marc Canter among many, many others talking about the need to do something about this way back before Social Media blew up.

So here’s the point.

Yes, there is a revolution brewing over data on the Web as people realize that soon after the honeymoon ends with every new, popular and shiny social network, that there’s inherent value to the relationships that they maintain and cultivate within them and that value is monetized by the host.

Regardless of the terms of service, pushing back, pushes things forward…in a good way.

While users can find unique ways to leverage their visibility, such as creating, promoting and reinforcing an online personal brand, I believe there’s greater value to empowering users rather than virtually imprisoning them.


Because if you can create an extended social graph that is portable, then people can truly leverage the cultures and relationships across multiple networks. That’s the power and promise of social media. Think about the world economy and what it would be like if there were no air travel, bridges, roads, etc. It’s about building global communities that help people discover and share across multiple communities and also feel compelled to share their social graph with their hosts.

It’s just a matter of time.

Connect with me on Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, Plaxo, or Facebook.

About the Author:

Brian Solis

Brian Solis is principal at Altimeter Group, a research-based advisory firm. Solis is globally recognized as one of the most prominent thought leaders and published authors in new media. A digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist, Solis has studied and influenced the effects of emerging media on business, marketing, publishing, and culture. His current book, Engage, is regarded as the industry reference guide for businesses to build and measure success in the social web.

Visit Brian's page at


    no imageDon Lafferty (Who am I?)4 January 2008 9:25 am

    We can’t expect individual socnets to give a rat’s ass about each other or about building global bridges to greater communities. All they want to do is pimp their registered users to all the usual suspects.

    Obviously we all “own” the RELATIONSHIPS represented by our personal social graphs in the context of each socnet.

    The scope of the dilemma that comes with the portability of the data is relative to the size of the social graph. Consequently, as massive social graphs become valuable to the companies WE’RE all pimping for, noble ideals in the pursuit of an answer to the dilemma suits our needs, but it isn’t realistic.

    In the current environment, meaning we don’t pay anything for these socnets, I think the key lies in the objectives and life expectancy of the socnet one builds. Users can’t demand much for free, and let’s face it, we’re all just users. Short term strategies, redundancy and well crafted linkage from one strategy to the next might enable us to retain some continuity in a social graph while continuing to grow it.

    Eventually the walls will come down, but they’ll be brought down by revolution, not benevolence.

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    no imageTim Kissane (Who am I?)4 January 2008 10:22 am

    Great summary, Brian. I touched on this briefly on my site but was trying to make a point about data ownership. If the host companies could see their user community as partners rather than a commodity, “empowering users rather than virtually imprisoning them,” as you say, users would respond in kind. But I’m afraid this is the little splash before the tsunami.

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    no imageMark Evans (Who am I?)4 January 2008 10:53 am

    Another element to having control of your data is being able to move everything from a service that’s no longer interesting (e.g. Facebook) to something new and exciting. After all the effort in building your profile somewhere, it would be a shame not to be able to take it with you.

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    no imagebriansolis (Who am I?)4 January 2008 11:30 am

    Don, Tim, Mark, absolutely agree.

    The Social Graph needs to be portable because there will always be something new and exciting to experiment with.

    One thing to think about as well is how we can proactively take our important contacts manually to existing portable formats. Yes, it’s more work, but how do you measure that against the value of relationships.

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    no imageVictor Karamalis (Who am I?)4 January 2008 12:23 pm

    Data may need to be handled like electronic protected health information as mandated by HIPAA. One has a right his/ her own data and how it should be handled as long as it pertains to a patient’s health care. How this translates to Web Services in social network should be self regulated and people really need to verify that they understand what these companies will do to their information. For example, there are Facebook Apps that I don’t install b/c I have a legitimate issue with they way they want to collect my information. So, I simply do not install them. As I briefly wrote in my thesis, people do not care about how their information is handled until it is used in a manner that they feel has violated their trust with that company.

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    no imageDon Lafferty (Who am I?)4 January 2008 12:55 pm


    I think this discussion is specifically focused on capturing social graph data via automated means. In the context of large networks, this is certainly an issue that will require addressing if online socnets are going to become a viable component of any company’s marketing, messaging or other customer related strategy.

    Your point about taking our more important contacts with us to other portable formats is almost moot. Here’s why.

    If I have an important contact in any socnet, one of my primary objectives in that relationship is to drag it back into a more traditional communication channel, be it email, telephone or beer. I ASSUME the socnet is going to let me down eventually or more practically speaking, I assume I’m going to get what I pay for. Nothing.

    I also assume that my contacts will soon become bored, disconnected or too busy to respect their socnet connections, and so I treat each relationship as fleeting until I solidify it through more traditional means.

    BTW, what’s your mobile number?

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    no imageanonymous (Who am I?)5 January 2008 6:27 pm

    “there is a revolution brewing over data”

    I see no evidence of a revolution. If history is any guide, we will quietly give up control of our information for convenience or additional features.

    There is a great deal of customer information collected by phone companies, credit card companies, banks, etc. that is use and sold without the customer’s permission or benefit. At any time, these same organizations can deny their customers service or change the terms of service. It happens all the time, with little or no complaint from the majority of customers.

    I see Web based information to be no different. Time will tell.

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    no imageAndrew A. Peterson (Who am I?)6 January 2008 10:52 am

    It’s great that this recent scandal is bringing the debate into the mainstream spotlight.

    people are going to get sick of rebuilding their networks on every new service that comes along. I know I am.

    Ultimately, I don’t see how can facebook or any other walled garden can prevent scraping since html is an open standard. Links etc can be cached and compared elsewhere so a parallel system could easily preserve/rebuild the social connectivity between users of a service, provided they participate in the parallel network.

    Someone is going to kick off a service for Semantic caching/distributing of networking info that catches on, and things will take off from there.

    The Web is already a social network and FaceBook can’t stop that no matter what their TOS says.

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