Following a couple of interesting tweets on Twitter, I started following Brian Kelly and, as usual had a look to see if his blog was interesting. It is, and I’ve joined in with his Pownce experimenting – you can find me here.

One of his latest posts touched on ownership of social networks asking:

  • Who should own the social networks?
  • Should ownership of social networks be any different from other software services we use in our institutions (including VLEs such as Blackboard, Web 2.0 services such as Flickr or blogging services such as Edublogs Campus)
  • How should a transition to a change of ownership take place?
  • How realistic is the transition strategy?
  • How do you know what this is what the users actually want?
  • How will social networking services be funded under alternative ownership resources? And if the answer is increased taxes, how will you get that past the Daily Mail readership which seem to be influential in informing policy discussions for both the Labour and Conservative parties?

This followed concerns being raised by Frances Bell and Josie Fraser about the ownership of the social networks – particularly Facebook.

As an employee of a *huge* telecom/ICT firm, the idea of any state ownership of social networks seems faintly odd. If we trust private firms to provide the infrastructure that these social networks run over – because, of course, we can always switch to another supplier – why *wouldn’t* you trust private firms to run the social networks?

The social networks – be they Facebook, Orkut, bebo, MySpace or something from ning – are the pipes that we deploy our social graphs across. Pete Johnson gives a good explanation of graph vs. network.

Now, if I can take my graph off that network… [hey, isn’t that beginnning to look like Data Portability – and aren’t Facebook saying they’lll play?] … can I use it somewhere else? Which bits of the data are mine is a different issue.

Well, not yet. But maybe soon. And when that happens, won’t these concerns about who runs the “pipes” be less significant?
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18 thoughts on “Ownership of Social Networks? or the data we give them?

  1. You can forget public funding and you can forget putting things on a subscription basis.

    That being settled, I’d like to ask how you’d respond if one of your Facebook friends complained that he trusts you in Facebook, but he doesn’t really want you grabbing his data from the profile he provided to Facebook and importing it to another site?

    Perhaps he doesn’t want the data moved to MySpace? Or vice versa.

  2. +1 against public funding and subscription…

    How’d I respond? Possibly, get a life.

    Being fairer, I’d suggest that when you friend someone on Facebook, you’re placing trust in *them*

    – @Casablanca in suggests
    “Coming back to the Robert Scoble incident, I gave permission to him to use my contact data however he wanted. Facebook acted as the broker, but after the initial connection was made, they have no place in preventing Scoble from using that data. Terms of Use be damned. If he abused the trust I place in him (he didn’t), then that’s a matter between me and him.”

    My social graph is mine. If an individual no longer wants to be part of it… that’s another issue again.

  3. Suppose this scheme were implemented with an opt-out, so that anyone who wished could be assured that he’d never be Scobleized either by someone doing a page scrape or through some API provided by Facebook for use in implementing Open Social/Data Portability? Would that be acceptable to you?

    In other words, you can try to pull my data, but I may have chosen the data portability opt-out to suppress automatic export of my data to other locations. In which case, I don’t show up when you try to move me over to another location.

  4. ‘kay… interesting.
    You provide contact data which I can use but only in that space? No, it includes an email address. You could do like I do elsewhere and provide a one-time address which I blackhole if spammers start using it.

    You mean you want to provide me contact details – but only for my own use? Now, does this fit with FOAF type activities… maybe.

    In essence, I think there’s a problem which JP Rangaswami et al are trying to address around Communal data and trust – and I recognise it too.

    One of the major things I have against Facebook apps are how many of them want me to spam all my FB friends… I can see how selling their names elsewhere might irritate them at least as much…

  5. Well, one can easily conceal one’s contact info in Facebook, and then you’d be left to Facebook messaging for making contact. It’s a nice interface and I use it sometimes in preference to email. The concern is that Facebook might start to release contact info or other info into the wild under the open social/data portability initiative.

    Whether or not a friend provides you with contact details, you have the means within Facebook for maintaining contact, even so far as to send messages to a friend’s cellphone. Whether that satisfiies FOAF, I have no idea. I don’t know why I should care whether it satisfies FOAF. I understand the limited goals of Facebook, and, separately, the limited goals of MySpace. I do not understand the goals of a grand program for establishing a fully open social network, but it strikes me as rather tending to stalkeresque behaviour. Much of the Internet has moved over from leering at pornography (which costs money) to stalking our friends and other people we half know. A mild form of this is coming home from work and aimlessly nosing through one profile after another in MySpace of Facebook. Seems a harmless enough activity, but I think it turns all of us into objects of prurient interest. I’m ready to bail out of Facebook and MySpace before I let that happen to me.

  6. So, you basically want to keep the information you’ve provided to Facebook *in* Facebook? I just want to be able to get mine out – I think our difference is some of what you think is yours I think is ours – your address, but our relationship…

    I don’t particularly want to establish a “fully open social network” whatever that is, but to be able to get out from Facebook if I want to… and to find – easily – the people that I interact with elsewhere (say, they all head to orkut).

    I’m interested that you feel that this would lead to stalkeresque behaviour. I suppose again, it depends what you value. Privacy or openness? many of the Generation M type seem to value the openness more than the privacy…

    I don’t stalk, I think, but when I see an interesting tweet, I’ll generally look at their blog before I choose to follow them; I may even add it to my netvibes blog page.

    Folk I work with know things about me – but not *more* than they’d know if we shared a bricks and mortar office than a virtual workspace. Thanks for the comments, by the way.

  7. So you’re saying that you want something like a right of convenience that trumps miy right to stay out of Orkut so you can port me to Orkut? Orkut’s not the only worry. There are other sites that have set up surveillance on the social networks we belong to. I don’t know whether I’m down with the idea of an overseer site reporting the social networks that I belong to.

    “Many of the Generation M type”: this is marketing language. All this talk about Millennials, Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers, etc. is meaningless drivel from guys who are looking to discover a demographic with unique characteristics by presupposing the existence of a demographic with unique characteristics. A lot of people from early childhood on through old age value privacy, same as they value warmth, decent food, and all the normal stuff. Openness is sloganeering that’s been tacked onto the marketing jargon.

    I’m sure you don’t stalk, or you don’t think you stalk. I know that I’ve done it. It’s kind of a phase, or one hopes it’s a phase. After that, one realizes that looking into all sorts of details about people one doesn’t know is unseemly, and, well, stalkeresque. And those people probably don’t realize how visible and exposed they are.

    I think that there’s a crowd on the Internet who simply like living in a goldfish bowel. The rest of us are less visible and our views, naturally enough, aren’t taken into account. Nevertheless, If a bunch of people who live in the goldfish bowel just talk to other people who live in the goldfish bowel, you’d get the impression that the whole world want to live in the goldfish bowel in the name of openness and fulfilling the dreams of a new generation.

  8. *quickly rereads what he typed*
    No, I don’t want a right of convenience that trumps your right… whatever that may be.
    I just want to take my contacts with me, when I go. If you didn’t want me to do that, maybe we shouldn’t be friends?

    Surveillance on social networks – yep, I read about rapleaf, so your name led me to that… and spock, too. Am I comfortable that folk/marketers can see what I share? Yes, because other I wouldn’t have shared it… [e.g. my corporate email address isn’t shared]

    OK, Generation M was shorthand; try folk that have grown up with social networking, texting, IMing. They seem to want to know each other’s presence all the time. They find it a bit odd when their weird old uncle/grandfather or whatever uses the same tools, but are accepting of it. I’d rather talk than text, but my niece texts me rather than talks… they seem to ping each other on IM/MySpace all the time… YMMV.

    I’m content for followers to know what I do/whereabouts I live… otherwise I wouldn’t make it public; as for stalking… I have to use the tools to keep up with who I already read/follow (incidentally, they all know when they’re being followed).

    And I’m sure goldfish bowel was a Freudian slip… If you don’t want people looking in, don’t open the curtains… I wouldn’t dream of forcing your windows…

    What you’ve said is definitely interesting; do you feel that *you’ve* exposed more than you want by participating in the social networks?

  9. I think taking your contacts from Facebook into Orkut might test the relationship. I don’t think most people have thought this one through. But you should be mindful how many people are still stirred up about Beacon and the facebook newsfeed. And if they understood data portability as having privacy issues that transcend convenience, then they might be pretty stirred up about the Open Social/Data Portability as well.

    I wouldn’t want to suggest that surveillance of social networks could get to your corporate email address and all the messy details of your work life, but I’m content to intimate it. Again, I find that stalkeresque.

    As for your niece, my g/f texts and I call her back and tell her to cut it out. It’s a girl thing.

    I was thinking that goldfish are peculiarly transparent, so it was not a slip when I chose that particular spelling. Perhaps that was overreaching. But I do believe that there’s a very small number of people who prefer what you call openness, but their visibility conveys an impression that it’s something everyone wants.

    Again, although you wouldn’t want to force my curtains, I think when you put me into Orkut, then you’ve forced me to open my curtains to Orkut, or do I misunderstand your notion of reconstructing your social graph in Orkut?

    Asking me if I feel that I’ve exposed more than I want is like asking if I have anything to hide. No more than the next person, but I don’t really care to expose stuff I’ve put into Facebook beyond Facebook. It’s in Facebook because I’ve made a conscious choice to put it in Facebook and *not* elsewhere. It’s not that my fingers would wear out after typing invites to my friends in some other SNS.

  10. “do I misunderstand your notion of reconstructing your social graph in Orkut?”

    This is the key question.

    I absolutely agree with rapleafwatch if, by “reconstructing your social graph”, it means taking your list of contacts and then importing them into Orkut, where these contacts are turned into user accounts. If you wish to take your contacts list and Orkut just lets you import them in as a data list, and then does nothing (no email from orkut saying, “your friend has joined Orkut, would you like to join?” even) apart from maybe check through the list to see if any are already members, and it is part of your non-public-exposed profile, then that would be something I would find acceptable.

  11. From my perspective – and hey, that’s all it is… I don’t want to be tied in to one provider.

    If when I have my contacts *I* can say, “Hey guys, let’s leave Facebook and its intrusive Beacon model” or Orkut/Bebo/MySpace and whatever I dislike that’s well and good – and no, I don’t necessarily want to retype all that information…

    But if you don’t want me to have your information – currently all you can do is not give it to me; unless we move to a model of trust and understanding of which data is yours, which mine, and which communal.

    It is rather moving away from who *owns* the social networks though… which is what this was about; unless you feel that the SNS are “too important to be owned by private hands”…

  12. Before we move to a model of trust and understanding, I want the opportunity to review all my friends and my accounts, so that I can either dump certain friends or drop accounts before I find myself passively sitting in a supposedly non-publicly exposed profile. It seems doubtful to me that it will remain non-public for long. The techniques that underly the accomplishment of Rapleaf imply that none of this information is really non-public.

    Let me further remark that the evolution of the search engines has taken Google from being your benign friend who produces information in response to just a few key strokes to an all-seeing eye under whose gaze we cower in fear and make very certain that our public postures, i.e., the things we do that come under Google’s notice, aren’t significantly disturbing to employers, significant others, our friends, relatives and the wider society. And it’s hard to say that what doesn’t seem disturbing or offensive now wont’ be taken as offensive in the future. There are always small shifts in the culture that turn almost everything into a sensitive topic. It doesn’t take long and it doesn’t take much.

    Some people may be happy to twitter all day, but there are many areas of employment where too much visible Internet presence is considered a “negative”. Sometimes people accumulate a comet’s trail of Internet presence after their names inadvertently because they had the crazy idea for one week of starting a blog. Sometimes they had to obtain information from a forum. It then becomes something that will follow them to death like an incredibly ugly tattoo. All of this makes me think of the related phenomena of tattoos and piercings. Who wants to turn 35, 40 or 50 and still have that clutter on?

  13. That tattoo analogy is highlighting a very interesting phenomenon that seems to be little realised – the stuff we are putting into social networks will stay around forever. And we can’t control it ourselves.

    The contributions I was making to the net in the mid-early 90s are still about, I just googled a 12 year old usenet post I made about the use of sitar in the Yardbirds for instance. I’m not embarrassed about this – well, not much – but then I had no expectations of privacy when I made it. The usage and control were inherent in the medium.

    However when the data is more personal or behavioural and the third party usage is less transparent then the level of control becomes important. I don’t see anyone, private or public being able to do that… It’ll all end in tears I tell ya!

  14. OK, imagine a 17 year old Goth kid posting something to USENET in the mid-90s. Isome of the stuff Goths said were pretty extreme. Now he’s in his late 20s and he’s going to see that stupid USENET post following him for the rest of his life.

  15. Life’s tough, isn’t it. If said Goth had got drunk and knocked a bobby’s helmet off, he’d have a criminal record. Actions have consequences.

    I’m a bit puzzled with you and Sandy both chatting about Usenet and expectations of privacy… I was posting then and I was well aware of Deja News – surely you both remember that.

    Sure, you could X-No-Archive posts – and I gather you still can; should we have made that default? I don’t know, but that horse has bolted… unless the Goth was X-No-Archiving

    Content that you provide is easily removed from google stuff that you have posted elsewhere… less so I guess. I know some folk delete all their posts on forums – which should remove them from google on next spider… and, of course, you can robots.txt the spider/slurpbots away.

    I suppose that brings us neatly back to tagging your information.
    Would a tag on your information do?
    I mean, I don’t mind anyone knowing the email address I provide *to* Facebook – but my membership of Kilt Wearers is probably best for Facebook… so:
    s hai do sai at my mailprovider[share]
    Kilt Wearers[FacebookOnly]

    Default it to.. what you will?

  16. Point is the Goth didn’t get drunk and knock a bobby’s hat off, he only put something dumb into alt.goth.suicide in Usenet or some other nonsensical group. Actually, if he’d committed a real crime, there might be more difficulty getting access to that information. It’s the non-criminal, socially awkward things that will bite you in the ass years later.

    You can reasonably suppose that said mid-90s Goth didn’t know about deja and didn’t know about x-no-archive, etc. He wasn’t a tech, he was just a kid with access to a computer. That seems to be the closest thing to a realistic hypothesis about the Goth kid and what he knew about Usenet. The problem in regard to Google is that it takes keystrokes and turns them into actions that are publicized all over the planet and for the rest of time. Even minor felons get their records expunged after a couple of years of good behavior. The penalties imposed by Google are far more severe and I don’t hold with the libertarian view that everyone is fully informed and fully rational in these matters. Actually, the Goth kid’s post would never have been noticed outside deja if Google hadn’t take deja over and then started started websearching its Usenet archive. No amount of rational consideration of the matter would have prepared him to see his posting to alt.goth.suicide 1st on the list under a search of his name. (By the way, someone else might have quoted him, in which case he’ll never make the post go away.)

    Re tags, you seem to be coming around to my view. I just push it a little further. I think everything should be taggable as not visible and not for use outside facebook and the default should be zero visibility and zero for use outside facebook. I’ve noticed in some of the discussion of Web 2.0 site design that opt-outs should be made difficult. Just as I’d expected.

  17. I think we’re in danger of agreeing…

    … I’d add in my defence though that since I did highlight “Which bits of the data are mine is a different issue.” it’s not so much me coming around to your view, as a joint realisation that we may both agree…

    Incidentally, I wasn’t a tech in the mid 90s (and still ain’t now 🙂 )but I would have said I was a fairly early adopter. There was lots of fuss about Deja in the groups I frequented; I remember warning guys in my team that anything they said could be found. Be that as it may…

    I think we’re now only disagreeing about what should be released; and how it should be controlled. I think that’s another post. So, I’ll think about that and post in the next day or so.

  18. I didn’t have any expectation of privacy, though in ’94 posting to usenet was a rather obscure activity, it would have surprised me if it overlapped at all with my working life.

    My niece is in her early 20s and recently finished university keeps a running commentary on her social life on her Bebo account, she isn’t doing anything terrible.. but it is all abit silly and seems to involve alcopops a lot, but it is very different from the open conversations the ‘technology commentators’ are having. Us technology comentators are not typical.

    I think this is important, that we don’t take the exceptional examples of the use of social data from the A-list bloggers and early adopters and extrapolate that because Robert Scoble is fine with that, then everybody else should be.

    I agree Usenet is a poor example of this, I think the lack of privacy was transparent, but this becomes much muddier when talking about social network applications, there is a veneer of privacy and control, no matter that it isn’t explicit in the EULA – and probably doesn’t exist.

    But thats the conflict, social networks need data to be shared, thats where the power comes from, and its where the money can be made.

    The recent ho-hah about facebook and Beacon shows that its something that needs to be understood. Where leverage of benefit from accumulated social data is in conflict with the desires or comfort zone of the people sharing then there is a great danger of killing the goose that laid the golden egg.

    In my own organisation I keep my ‘whereabouts’ up to date and tagged to my directory entry but its a choice and some people choose not to do so, it makes the whereabouts function work less well.

    I’m always rather concerned about the people who don’t have public whereabouts – it certainly suggests that social networks in the enterprise may not work as well as could be projected from their success in the outside world, but it can’t be mandatory because that would kill the benefits we do get from it.

    Clear ownership and straightforward opt-in usage statements are the only way this can work.

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