Data: Mine or Theirs?

Although I’m writing this under the fallout of  Scoble-Facebook, I don’t think the issue of who owns your data is either confined only to Digital identity or has been very well thought out.

First, a roundup of the various reactions:

It’s not about data portability. It’s about trust.

Offline, my friends and I share a mutual connection. Maybe it’s around work, maybe it’s around our kids or something in our past. Whatever it is, they’re my friend because they know something about me beyond what’s easily accessible to others. Keyword here is mutual. I know a bit about them too. Their relationship with me is unique as compared to their relationship with others.

Online, those lines are blurred. For what I would guess is at least 4,500 of the 5,000 “friends” Robert Scoble has on Facebook, he is the equivalent of a magazine publisher and you are his subscriber base/audience. He says it’s mutual and that’s the beauty of the social and connected web, but he only cares about you when you put something on the table that he’s interested in. It’s not about you. Yet, he’s “sitting” right next to your real friends, getting the same information about you that you’re sharing with them. If he takes that information and abuses it, however un- or good-intentioned, it serves you both right.

Robert Scoble valued his relationship with Plaxo more than he valued his relationship with his “friends,” otherwise he would have posted to them what he was doing with an experimental, alpha-quality and untested script before he did it…or he wouldn’t have done it at all.

Judi Sohn

I think there are two questions here. The first is whether users should be able to extract their data [including social graph data] from one service and import it into another. I personally believe the answer is Yes and this philosophy underlies what we’ve been working on at Windows Live and specifically the team I’m on which is responsible for the social graph contacts platform.

Dare Obasanjo

Then there is the oft-cited  post by Paul Buchheit (the guy who created Gmail).

Now I’m not on Facebook et al for a reason: data, in the case of a person,  is that person. Whereas data for iTunes is essentially  the signals sent to your sound card. Se the difference

Is it important to guard those things? Yes, or course. At the end of the day, its all you are left with if everything goes to hell: Your sense of self and identity, and your friends ( real friends, that is).

So we essentially have two options:

  1. Manage that data ourselves in a way that gives complete and utter control over every aspect of things
  2. Give our data over to a less than trustworthy service that essentially controls who you are, your identity ( on- and off-line) and who your freinds are and what your realtionship is with them

I’ll take option one any day of the week. Why? Becuase of control. It is all about control.

Plaxo may or may not keep your data after you opt-out ( i think its the former rather than the latter). Facebook has the awesome power of wiping out very single trace of you from its universe with a simple mouse-click. Add a hundred and one other web services that suck your data out of Google, Hotmail and the like.

There is a missing element in the above situations. Find it yet? And its not trust. Its control. And I mean, complete and utter control.

At least Twitter gives you more granular control( in terms of message recipients)  and has a proper API.

Better yet, Open ID, while somewhat flawed, is a brilliant idea insofar as you have a digital identity provided and vouchsafed by a trusted source ( AOL, for example). This blog is my digital identity ( since WP supports Open ID).  I can decide what to do with that identity, what to reveal, what to password protect. If I move on to from one blog to another, I can export all my posts and import them else where.

In short I have complete control of that Open ID identity (short of running my own webserver).

So because I have control I can never be in a Scoble snafu like that ( And I don’t care for the fact that Scoble was pressing FB’s buttons on purpose – he gave up his control over that data and he knew it).

In a  sense, its the MS DOS command line all over again. And  loss of control is like letting Vista hide the RUN command and the task manager and tickle itself silly with crashes.