Data Portability: Social Infrastructure still very much wanting

Summary:In a penetrating analysis of the Facebook developers forum, 20bits shows that the participation of programmers in the discussion about the Facebook platform is rapidly dwindling, which suggests the platform itself is incompatible with the needs of the market. The fewer programmers writing for the Facebook platform, the less relevant that platform will be.

In a penetrating analysis of the Facebook developers forum, 20bits shows that the participation of programmers in the discussion about the Facebook platform is rapidly dwindling, which suggests the platform itself is incompatible with the needs of the market. The fewer programmers writing for the Facebook platform, the less relevant that platform will be. There's a simple reason for this: Facebook and the other walled garden approaches, even when it is personal walled gardens hosted by a company like Ning, contribute to the fragmentation of personal experience.

What this market needs is a true mash-up platform that engages the many parts of people's lives selectively, through the user's decision-making (which can be helped along by editorial participation), rather than trying to corral different parts of those lives into defined "communities." Community isn't only a place, it is also a set of relationships, many of which are different than the one or two relationship factors that is the putative "reason" for a community. And those relationships are not the same for everyone in any community, but must be mixed and matched within and across different communities.

Social networking to date has focused on very small problems, and has fragmented online user experience into a mirrored madhouse as a result. In the case of Facebook, which has done damage to itself with the ham-handed introduction of Beacon, its monetization strategy for engaging brands, the essential problem remains that the "public" person presented by members of the site is not the real person behind the site, and for many users, they are simply uncomfortable with treating their lives as essentially an open book that can be passed around among developers that happen to offer Facebook apps.

Data portability, a current hot issue in the industry, is a misnomer: What we're talking about is how to make it easy to flip through user's lives by standardizing the expression of personal information to a public setting—almost always a fledgling market—rather than contemplating how people really share information about themselves. People are selective and attentive to how their data is used. Everyone knows they won't tell a story they wish to keep closely held to the local gossip, but for the social networker today the only way to tell a story is to publish it to the network.

Some will probably say I am over-generalizing. But the plain fact of the matter is that, wherever you go today on the social network, the first thing that happens is someone asks you for your personal data so that it can be loaded into their database and used to "personalize" your experience on their site. The Data Portability standards are simply ways to expedite that process.

We need computers to serve people in all their contradictions, secrets and predilections, as well as simply as a system for sorting them into common bins that can be addressed by mass marketers.

Topics: Collaboration, Social Enterprise, Software Development

About

Mitch Ratcliffe is a veteran journalist, media executive and entrepreneur. He was editor of the ground-breaking Digital Media newsletter in the 1990s and a frequent contributor to ZDNet over the years. He led development of the first Web audio/video news network at ON24, sat on the board of Electric Classifieds Inc. and Match.com, and wor... Full Bio

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