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My Data, Your Data and Our Data

Mr Scoble is making headlines again, this time for getting kicked off of Facebook (now he's back in, although I wonder if someone not as high-profile been given the same luxury?). He got caught scraping data off of Facebook using a feature of Plaxo Pulse, a competing social network. I'm all for data portability, but this of course raised the question of who actually owns the data in your social graph.

Clearly what came out of this is that it's no one's data but Facebook's. It's clear they control access to it, so there's nothing stopping them from keeping it from you. After all, Robert wasn't just restricted from accessing the data he was scraping, he was also restricted from accessing his own profile, including photos, videos and other content that no one would argue he doesn't own. And it's in Facebook's interest to make it their own. Their top two (only two?) competitive advantages are closed access and momentum and the former drives the latter.

Facebook is being pulled from opposite sides by the push for open access and by the necessity to ensure privacy. They get in trouble for not doing enough of both even though the means to achieving both are often at odds. To that extent, there are three levels of open access Facebook (or any social network, for that matter) could offer while maximizing privacy for those who require it:

My Data
First things first, let me pull my own data out - my list of favorite music, my photos, my videos, etc. I let the network borrow it and I have a right to take it back (and take it with me). Furthermore, all of this is stand-alone data and does not reveal any information about my social graph. My pictures might reveal other people in my social graph, but tagged friend data is explicit revelation of that shared data and doesn't come along for the ride at this level.

Our Data
Second, let me pull out my links. This is shared data, but since the existence of the link is usually public knowledge and doesn't reveal any real identifying information other than your name, letting me take this data with me is probably okay in most circumstances. It would be safe, though probably unpopular, to make this shared data opt-out instead of opt-in.

Your Data
Finally, there's your information. This was the stuff Scoble was pulling out en masse and rightfully got in trouble for. I can take your favorite movies to my Netflix buddy list or your work info to my LinkedIn network, but only if you let me. Here's the kicker though: I have to let you have my data too. I shouldn't be able to post your pictures on HotOrNot (or explicitly say you're you in one of my pictures) unless I give you the ability to do the same.

Facebook doesn't currently let anyone do any of this. It's easy enough to get away with grabbing my own data, although it comes out in a non-standard format. Pulling out my links is a still quite trivial, though somewhat useless given the current state of things (meaning I can't do much with just your name and there isn't much to do even if I could). Robert proved it's feasible but risky to pull your data. For all Facebook knows all 5000 of his friends would happily let him have their email addresses and birthdays.

It's clear that a solution that maintains privacy and provides open access exists, I came up with one in less than an hour (though admittedly implementing it is a huge task). The problem isn't that a creepy old (just kidding on both counts :-p) blogger wants to wish me a happy birthday. The problem is that under the guise of protecting privacy, Facebook continues to block open access to data that wants to be free when all they're really doing is protecting their business model.

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Facebook Does Blogs Notes

Facebook released their notes feature today, which is basically a blogging system inside of the Facebook network. The posting and importing features have already been covered, so I wanted to touch on a few things that I find interesting that may have been skipped over.

First off, the blogging system is very well integrated into the network. Facebook has modified the notion of Trackbacks/Pingbacks by allowing users to reference their friends in posts. Similar to the way pictures can be tagged, posts referencing users can be tagged as well. In the "My Notes" section, you can then view notes others have tagged you in, or view your friends' latest notes. There's also a "Read more notes about …" when you view anyone's profile and they have notes tagged with their name. I really like this feature because it adapts the great features about blogs (quick and easy posting interface, trackbacks, and comments) very well into the network. Compare this to MySpace's blogging functionality which is just bolted on to the network and doesn't provide much integration other than authentication for comments. Sadly, no RSS feeds are available for the notes and the developers' API doesn't have notes hooks built-in yet.

Second is the ability to import blogs. This is also a great way to integrate several (well, just one) other network (such as Flickr or del.icio.us) with an RSS feed. The downside is that you can only follow one RSS feed at a time (though previously imported and unlinked posts will remain). So for someone who has two blogs, a Flickr photostream and del.icio.us bookmarks he might want to potentially share, the only solution is to merge all the feeds into one or pick his favorite.

Picking a favorite RSS feed is like picking your favorite child, so I went with the former option. The first few RSS combiners I tried stripped all the HTML, including line breaks, and only showed partial posts, so they were quickly dismissed. This happened with about 3 or 4 combiners, and then I found this list of RSS re-mixers on RSS Compendium. I haven't had a chance to go through the list yet, but when I find one that works, I'll be sure to report back. If you know of one that works for sure, let me know and I can save myself some time.

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Facebook Opens Up API

Facebook launched their API this week, entitled the Facebook Developer Platform, which uses REST to make and receive requests from the Facebook service. The discussion on the dev site is already bustling, a Facebook desktop app is already in the works and an IRC channel #facebook is up on Freenode.

To stay up to date, use the FDN News RSS Feed. This is exciting not only because some really cool stuff will be coming out for Facebook, but also because it puts pressure on other social networks to open up their APIs as well (which is something I asked about way back in March).

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I Told You So, Google Talk Not Doing Too Hot

Google Talk's one year anniversary is approaching, and a report has come out saying that it's not doing too hot, just as I predicted. The fact of the matter is, there's no use competing in the textual IM space anymore; the market is saturated. Everyone is pretty much ingrained in what their social circles will use and no amount of smilie packs or client skins will change that.

What AOL/MSN/Y! and Google should be concentrating on is audio (though this market is pretty much consumed by Skype) and video chat. Making an excellent service centered around great audio or video chat and being the first to release it will practically guarantee you market share. There's only so much you can do with text, but the possibilities are endless for audio and video. We already see Skype bringing people together from all over the world to record audio podcasts, but imagine being able to do the same for video. Or have your recorded conversations be easily posted to your blog or YouTube. The numbers YouTube is showing prove that video is the next (current?) killer app of the internet. As broadband gains even more traction and companies like Apple make webcams ubiquitous by building them into their machines, video is poised to find its way into more application "genres" than what we currently see.

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WY! To Fight AOL

Microsoft and Yahoo have begun testing instant messaging interoperability between the two company's IM services in effort to better fight AOL's position in the IM market.

I really don't know how much it will help though. If they're looking for shear numbers, they've effectively cut their potential market in half since now there's no reason to have both an MSN account and a Y! IM account. I have both a Windows Live Messenger and a Y! IM account by virtue of the other services these logins offer (access to Office/Vista betas on the Microsoft side; My Yahoo! and Yahoo! Mail on the Yahoo side), but I have no reason to sign on to either IM service because I have no friends that use those services. The ability to use one login to have access to no friends on either service isn't very appealing.

Even still, in the age of Meebo and Adium, both multi-protocol IM apps, there's so much transparency between protocols that having to enter one less login name in the Accounts window is pretty inconsequential. Of course, having only one login name does have some benefits, namely synchronization. Now you will only need to worry about one buddy list, one status, one profile, etc.

Unless this interoperablity makes switching from AIM, I don't see it having much effect in the IM wars. What I do like about this agreement is the possiblilty of more Microsoft/Yahoo! collaboration and even the purchase of Yahoo! by Microsoft. Now that's something to chat about.

BTW, WY! = Windows Live Messenger + Yahoo! Messenger

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Digg 3 vs Netscape Beta

Digg 3.0 was released to the world today with a bunch of new features detailed all over the 'Net, the most important of which are the five new categories now featured. They are tagged "beta", as is par for the course, and encompass Science, World & Business, Videos, Entertainment and Gaming. Note that you must be a registered member in order to try out the new categories. The tag cloud is also a new feature that weighs stories based on their popularity. I haven't spent much time in either Digg v2 or Digg v3, so I'll the real in-depth reviews to those more qualified.

What's more interesting is the war being waged between Digg and the new Netscape home page. Kevin Rose fired the first shot by saying that Netscape should have waited until this week to copy Digg's features and now Jason Calcanis fires back about the number of ads on the new version of Digg. My first visit to Netscape's site (just a few minutes ago) greeted me with the (non-anchored) headline, "Digg 3.0 Disappoints". My only hope is that the two communities not use the sites as the battleground and stick to the sites' real purpose.

Digg has first-mover advantage but Netscape has AOL's relatively infinite purse to back it up if times get rough. Like I said, I'm not invested enough in Digg and the two sites are similar enough that I don't really care which way it goes. In the end, it's the users who benefit. Competition is always healthy.

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College Blogs Mini-Roundup

In the past few days, I've discovered several "real" blogs (i.e., not LiveJournal, angsty-type jobs) run by college kids. I think they each provide valuable content for their target niche and provide a younger perspective on their chosen topics. Here they are:

  • Student PR by Chris Clarke of Fanshawe College in London, Ontario, Canada
  • College v2 by Sean Blanda of Temple University in Philadelphia, PA.
  • College Startup by Ben Bleikamp of The Ohio State University in Columbus, OH.

I don't think I've ever come across so many college bloggers in such a short time, and I'm astounded by it. While I have by no means contacted these guys about starting or joining some kind of network, Sean of College v2 has already taken steps to starting such a network.

On a side note, I also need to stop breaking the cardinal rule of blogging and put up an About page before I actually finish college.

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Catching Up

Being back home in Miami Beach has kind of put a damper on my blogging. The change of environment has me preoccupied with other things and I've only been skimming my RSS feeds and skipping over a bunch of my daily reads.

Another thing I feel has kept me from writing is the fact that there's a ton of stuff going on. Google released a couple of new apps and E3 has brought a ton of new gaming news. I feel that if I do blog, I'll miss something and I'd rather not worry about that. Instead, I prefer to know that I've missed everything :-)

I have been keeping up with Joystiq's Nintendo Wii coverage and I think there is an underlying theme that can be summed up by two sentences: "The controls are cool, but too sensitive and the developer should be able to fix this. The graphics are okay, but not great."

Microsoft seems to be siding with Nintendo, having stated something to the effect of: "For the price of a PS3, one could buy both a Wii and a 360." I think it's good for the industry that all three companies are taking different stances in the market. Nintendo is going for the the casual gamer looking for cheap, innovative fun; Sony is going for the hardcore gamer looking for the high-end, "ultimate" experience; and Microsoft is going after a little of both (good games with next-gen graphics and casual games via XBox Live Arcade).

Strangely enough, it's Sony that appears the most stereotypically Microsoft-ish in this industry: They're creating a long list of features (with a price to match) that users may or may not want in hopes that the gaming industry equivalent of the Megahertz myth (i.e., that better graphics = better games) still applies.

In other news, AOL has launched its competitor to MySpace called AIMpages. I haven't had a chance to really check it out, but a quick look at the configuration for the friends shows that none of the people on my buddy list are eligible anyway.

There is a Philadelphia Bloggers meetup a week from this Saturday, two days after I get back in. I'll probably make it out to this one since I won't have much to do then, unless of course my self-diagnosed Social Anxiety Disorder kicks in and I become deathly afraid of meeting even geeks in person.

That's all for now.

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"Real World" Joins Facebook

TechCrunch is reporting that one Microsoft employee has been able to join Facebook as part of the Microsoft network.

A quick search of Facebook turns up only one Class of '09 undergrad with the name "Niall Kennedy". It's hard to get an accurate number of the number of people on the Microsoft network, but there doesn't seem to be Google, Yahoo, or AOL networks on there yet (according to Inside Facebook, there are only 10 companies on Facebook so far).

Is this a good thing? On the surface, it looks like it will get more users on the network. But with already existing rumors that employers are already leveraging recent grads' logins to look at the profiles of potential new hires for "risky" behavior (partying, drinking, drug use, etc.), you have to wonder if this will hurt the utility of the college networks by forcing students to censor themselves or leave the network completely.

As a college student, I don't see much utility in letting someone on a work network see my profile. They could learn much more from me by reading my blog, and what they read hear is much more useful to both of us in terms of professional networking (as opposed to the social networking Facebook is optimized for).

Putting myself in the shoes of a work Facebook user, I don't see as much utility in learning about a coworkers favorite books, TV shows, etc than I do in learning about what type of projects they're working on, their title, where they fit in the formal structure of the company, etc. Of course, I haven't spent much time out in the work force, so I may be completely off base.

Anyway, I don't see this addition of professional networks of bringing much value to the network itself. What I do see it doing, however, is allowing bloggers at the companies allowed on Facebook to generate buzz about the network and drive up the perceived value of the business.

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MMOs in the Classroom

It seems that someone does "get it." A professor at Ball State University will be teaching her English 104 class entirely online in Second Life.

I installed Second Life a few weeks ago but only spent a few minutes in it. There doesn't really seem to be a purpose to Second Life (much like First Life, one might argue), so I was turned off. With all the hype it's been getting recently, I may have to take a more in-depth look at it.

Either way, it's great to see new teaching methods being tried. I can't wait to see how this little experiment turns out.

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