Dave Winer has "discovered" the existence of RSS feeds on Facebook. Although, as many have pointed out through comments left on TechCrunch's subsequent coverage, these are in fact somewhat limited and nothing new. On the other hand, if more developers make use of the feeds that are available, and in turn put pressure on Facebook to offer more, then Winer's post is important nonetheless.
Here's a quick drill down of what RSS feeds are available today:
- Status Updates
- Facebook Notes RSS
- Shared Items
And, as Inside Facebook notes, the following RSS feeds are missing:
- News Feed
- Mini Feeds
- Profile Updates
- Groups Updates
- Events Updates
There's only a few possible reasons why Facebook has chosen to make only certain items publicly accessible as RSS feeds, allowing Facebook data to leave the site. The most sinister is that Facebook wants to keep certain data, and therefore functionality, within its walled garden. This then creates user lock-in. Alternatively it could be that Facebook is trying to juggle the privacy concerns and wishes of its users, so that only public-type information is currently accessible by RSS.
If I had to call it, I reckon it's a bit of both.
To solve the privacy problem would simply require giving users the option to decide which parts of their Facebook lifestream to make public. In my previous post on the issue, I wrote:
... access to a user’s Facebook lifestream is only possible if logged into Facebook, and if you have certain profile privileges. What Facebook needs to do to make the site the ultimate lifestreaming service is to enable users to have even finer control over who can access their Facebook activity data, including the ability to make it completely public — perhaps through RSS or an embedible widget. This of course would be an about-turn from its current strategy, where data can flow in, but can’t easily flow out of the site.
So how "open" does Facebook really want to be?