Getting data OUT of Facebook

One of the ongoing criticisms of Facebook is the perception that you can't get data out. This goes down well with the open source crowd who love nothing better than a walled garden.
Written by Dennis Howlett, Contributor

One of the ongoing criticisms of Facebook is the perception that you can't get data out. This goes down well with the open source crowd who love nothing better than a walled garden. That perception may be wrong. Here's how.

SAP's Craig Cmehil scared the living daylights out of me yesterday by pulling some of my Facebook data into an application he created in about 15 minutes. In fairness, I had challenged Craig to figure a way of accessing my data in a usable form so no harm, no foul.

Enterprises looking to create apps for Facebook can use most of the data individuals input for their own purposes. Craig says:

...what I did with that very small little app was pull the birthday, education and work history of the user - now let's say the user is a new hire at a company and the company has a small Facebook application (of course they would need to discuss TOS with Facebook and all that first). This application would allow the new hire or potential new hires to simply copy their education and work histories as well as any other data of importance over to the companies internal system - for me that would be brilliant no more copying that data from LinkedIn to Facebook, to who knows where else. Considering this took me only the 15 minutes imagine if you really devoted some time to it certainly an Enterprise application in there I would think...

And then Craig did give it some thought and posted those into a Facebook video. You'll need a Facebook account to see this but I will paraphrase:

  • Assume a company wants to find a new hire. It could put out a call over Facebook, maybe even create a group for that job. It could buy some Facebook inventory to advertise that draws people to a small application.
  • A user adds him/herself to that group and fires up the application which sucks data about 'you' into itself.
  • With appropriate permissions, 'you' authorize the app to send your data to the company in question.
  • In turn, the company accesses that data and maps it to its hire process system, using its own algorithms to create a short list of candidates.

OK - so there are all sorts of issues around data collection, privacy etc but given this information is likely to be volunteered, then I suspect the practical realities are that no-one will care, provided they know which of their data is being gathered. Moreover, potential candidates may well provide MORE Facebook data if they think that will help their chances of being shortlisted for a position. Regardless, this is a serious enterprise play.

The other week, I suggested that HR should be leading the charge in the adoption of social computing applications. Jason Corsello, an HR specialist and fellow Irregular responded saying 'no':

IT, especially at large organizations, still maintains a command and control approach to applications and communication technology and will continue to do so. As much as it would make sense for HR to own internal collaboration, I don’t see it happening anytime soon.

Here surely is a sensible use case that any HR department could put forward as a solid reason for allowing access to social applications of this kind. IT departments that ignore this call will be made to look incredibly silly. The only problem is that such cases require forward thinking of the kind that geeks like Craig exude. It's all upside because I can say - having both met and spoken with Craig on a number of occasions - he 'gets' business need. Working with folk like Craig is always a pleasure because you just know something good will come out of it.

Apps like this deliver value way beyond the effort expended. Remember Craig said it took all of 15 minutes to create a 'scary' prototype? Imagine what he could do in a couple of days? And lest anyone runs away with the idea that Craig is a Facebook fanboy - he states very clearly that's he's not a huge fan - yet.

But that still leaves the question of monetization for those smart enough to build these kinds of application. This is a topic that will become increasingly important for incumbent providers like SAP and Oracle as the light weight yet extraordinarily valuable social computing metaphor takes hold.

I hope the Facebook founders are thinking about this because as many of us in enterprise land already know, the value to be delivered is way beyond anything that consumer apps can muster. And that has a price.

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