Are you on Facebook? What about Google+? Twitter? MySpace? Have you ever thought what happens to all the data that you put in there? Take your Facebook account, for example…you have so much useful information that you’d like to export and place into another place, but unfortunately you can’t. Robert Scoble tried that once and Facebook booted him off their network. The data that you enter into these social networks, while it’s your information, is being treated as if it was proprietary for the network. There’s no sharing allowed. And no matter how much you might think that the adage “sharing means caring” might apply here, think again…the web is the wild wild West and its every social network for themselves.
Just read this latest post from Mr. Scoble as he comments that the common web is dead (or at least it’s too late to save). In 2008, he tried to export his Facebook information so he could apply it elsewhere, but Facebook wants to protect it and boots him off. It seems that what you put into making your profile relevant is what you can’t get back. This was further reinforced, according to Scoble, on Friday’s episode of the Gillmore Gang where he once again rehashed his Facebook exile:
Facebook should be allowed to be a data roach motel: data can come in, but damn you Scoble if you want to take that data back out.
At this point, the open web is dead – Scoble has given up and feels that the struggle for data rights (my terminology), akin to basic human rights, is over – the social networks have won. But is it? The data portability world still has its heroes, like Dave Winer, John Battelle, and Chris Saad. These three are not giving up on promoting the open web and fighting the good fight, but do most of us honestly care what happens to our data? Four years ago, John Battelle predicted the data constrictions we’re seeing now: “The web as we know it is rather like our polar ice caps: under severe, long-term attack by forces of our own creation.” We created this technology and now it’s evolved into a point that, over time, has slowly eroded away our feelings about data portability.
In today’s New York Times, Lori Andrews wrote an opinion article about how Facebook is making their money off of our backs. In this article, Ms. Andrews states that unlike other big-ticket corporations, Facebook (estimated to be worth at least $75 billion), doesn’t have an inventory of widgets or gadgets, cars or phones. Rather, the inventory consists of personal data. If you look at Facebook’s S-1 filing and also what I wrote about this when news first came that they would go public, most of Facebook’s revenue will come from advertising. And it’s no surprise that in order for advertisers to get more bang for their buck, Facebook allows them to target to us by key words or details that are associated with your profile or social graph (almost like a Klout perk, except being advertised to isn’t a perk). Whether it’s your relationship status, location, activities, favorite books, employment, etc., advertisers can have their pick of the litter of the entire 845 million users. This tactic has been especially beneficial for Facebook having made over $3.2 billion in advertising revenue last year and making up 85% of the total revenue. So it makes perfect sense for Facebook to want to protect the data that you put into it. No network wants to allow you to share your data you willingly give it because they want to protect its cash cow! Sure you get some minimal benefit by connecting with your friends and family, but for social networks, your data is virtual gold and worth more than anything else.
And while Ms. Andrews states her arguments about Facebook, the same can be said for Google+, MySpace (they’re still around), Twitter, and startups too…your data is invaluable to them and the only way they’ll probably give it up is if their service gets shuttered.
So is there any point in trying to resurrect the Open Web? Technically it’s not dead (yet), but there are certain steps that may be applicable to stem the damage and make things accessible. Echo’s Chris Saad penned a post in response to Mr. Scoble’s in which he agrees that the Open Web is in real danger, but also points to a bigger problem: we’ve lost sight of the things that matter. You can read his entire post here, but I wanted to highlight a few things that Mr. Saad says in his post that he believes would revitalize the open web:
Add to the web’s DNA
According to Chris, almost every startup he sees is focusing on building an “app” and calling it a “platform”, but they wind up being nothing more than “proprietary, incremental and niche attempts at making a quick buck.” The thought is that companies should think deeper and more long-term. He asks companies what are they doing to change the fabric of the web’s DNA forever? Are you being a true game-changer by contributing to the “essence of the Internet” like other technologies like TCP/IP, HTTP, HTML, JS, etc have done?
Don’t just iterate, innovate
Of course, someone has to build Apps. We can’t all be working at the infrastructure layer. But too many of the Apps we chose to build (or champion) are incremental. As startup founders, investors, and influencers, it’s so easy to understand something that can be described as the ‘Flipboard of Monkeys’ instead of thinking really hard about how a completely new idea might fit into the future. Sure there are plenty of good business and marketing reasons why you shouldn’t stray too far from the beaten path, broadening it one incremental feature at a time, but the core essence of what you’re working on can’t be yet another turn of a very tired wheel. If you’re shouting ‘Me too’ then you’re probably not thinking big enough.
B2C, not Ego2C
Silicon valley is clearly a B2C town. We all love the sexy new app that our mother might eventually understand. Something we can get millions of users to use so we can show them lots of ads. Besides the fact that I think we should focus a little more on B2B, the problem is we’re not really a B2C town at all. We’re actually more focused on what I will call Ego2c. That is, we pick our favorite apps based on how famous the founding team is OR how easily we can use the app to build yet another niche audience for ourselves (and brands/marketers). It would be a tragedy if the social web revolution boils down to new methods of PR and marketing. But that’s what we seem to be obsessed with. As soon as any app from a famous founder gets released we give it tones of buzz while plenty of more deserving projects get barley a squeak. If the app gets a little traction (typically the ones that have Ego mechanics baked in) you see a million posts about how marketers can exploit it. Inevitably the app developers start to focus on how to ‘increase social coefficients’ instead of how to help human beings make a connection or find utility in their lives.
“Users don’t care”
Speaking more specifically about the Open vs. Closed debate, too often we hear the criticism ”Users don’t care about open”. This is absolutely true and the reason why most open efforts fail. Users don’t care about open. They care about utility and choice. This is why the only way to continue propagating the open web is to work with BUSINESS. B2C. Startups, Media Brands, The bigco Tech companies. They care about open because the proprietary winners are becoming more prominent and successful and that usually means there are at least one or more other startup/company out there who needs a competitive advantage. They need to team up and build, deploy and popularize the open alternative. This is why Chris believes that open will win.
There are more interesting points that Mr. Saad makes in his post and you can read it all here.
But suffice it to say, there is a small war being waged on the Internet over proprietary sites and the Open Web. The average consumer probably doesn’t consider this in their factor as much, but whether or not it’s a consideration, the lesson here is that the data you put in, while it’s your personal information, no longer belongs to you. Be careful with it.
Photo Credit: Burns Library / Flickr