Posted on January 4, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |
The tech blogosphere frequently likes to get its panties in a knot over nothing. And so it was that advertising expert and tech blogger extraordinaire Robert Scoble sparked a fury when . It turns out that he was violating Facebook’s terms of service by testing a Plaxo application designed to export data from Facebook into Plaxo. Facebook reinstated Scoble’s account after he promised to be a good boy, but the incident has caused a debate over data portability in Web 2.0. Unsurprisingly, the same people that are telling us content wants to be free (i.e. it’s okay to steal music and movies) are telling us that data wants to be free. According to these purists, companies like Facebook should allow users to take their data and do with it whatever they want.
It’s a hot button topic. Scoble even and some, like my favorite blogger Duncan Riley, have to some extent. After all, Duncan stated, “to be fair there is some substance in the comparison, because ultimately supporting open access to data is a positive thing, and passive resistance is an ideal way to go about bringing change.” Brilliant. Personally, because Scoble probably weighs at least 75 pounds more than Gandhi did during even his non-fasting years, I think it’s a bad comparison. Scoble probably recognizes this and that’s why he his “fight” to the Boston Tea Party. Such a modest man.
Bud I digress. There seems to be an opinion that data portability is some sort of human right and that companies not supportive of it are guilty of an atrocious violation. I disagree and here’s why:
- Companies like Facebook are businesses (or wannabe businesses). In many cases, their most valuable asset is the user data they’ve collected and thus it’s not unreasonable to expect them to treat this data like a valuable asset. Expecting companies to simply make this data freely available to all without careful consideration is naive.
- I doubt that the “average” users of most of the services where data portability is a relevant topic really give a damn. It seems that the people most passionate about this topic are geeks who envision some sort of online utopia where data can be shared between various services and applications in a seamless fashion.
Facebook to participate in a DataPortability Work Group. Maybe the company will accept the invitation, but I think Web 2.0 hippies need to get realistic: companies have no “cultural and ethical imperative” to make their data free. I’m always amused that in a world where billions of people live in abject poverty, holier-than-thou geeks with no real-world perspective somehow think that the fate of a just society resides with the outcome of bullshit debates like those over data portability.
The bottom line is that if a company thinks that data portability can be beneficial, it should implement it. If it doesn’t, it shouldn’t. I’m not going to predict which approach is better because I think it can vary from company-to-company and will depend on how data portability is implemented.
Finally, perhaps the most interesting commentary on this entire subject was made by Mark ‘Rizzn’ Hopkins, who exclaimed “Forget Kenya, Let’s Talk Scoble-gate!” Yes, while Kenya is burning, the blogosphere has been ablaze with talk about Scoble. Perhaps Mark needs to re-evaluate just how well citizen journalism works. The mainstream blogosphere’s coverage of Scoble at the expense of coverage on important topics like Kenya is no different that the mainstream media’s coverage of celebrity gossip at the expense of substantive issues. To the mainstream media’s credit however, when I logged on to CNN.com, MSNBC.com and Yahoo! News this morning, there was at least one story about Kenya on the front page. No stories about Scoble. Thank god for little things.
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