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May 19, 2008

Who Will Activate The Internetz?

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There’s an interesting conversation brewing regarding Facebook’s decision to block Google Friend Connect from inside its walls. According to Facebook, the decision was simply one of privacy. They claim that Friend Connect violates Facebook’s Terms of Service, redistributing user information without users’ knowledge. Google, however, defended its service saying that users are in full control of their information and can unlink accounts at any time. Therefore Facebook’s argument? Pretty much baseless.

Mark Zuckerberg, seemingly acknowledging that Facebook has acted like a jealous teenager, says he’s ready to talk to Google and see if these two crazy kids can’t just work something out. And really, it’s in Facebook’s best interest to start playing nice here and welcoming Google into the family. A revolution is taking place, and if someone hands you an invite to join the party, you’d be wise to accept it. Otherwise you’re just going to get bowled over and replaced.

We’re quickly approaching the day where users are going to roll their eyes at the idea of having to maintain separate profiles for different Web sites. The early adopters are already at that stage. No one wants to set up, create and maintain separate Facebook and MySpace profiles. They don’t want to have to re-add the same people time and time again. They don’t want to have to repeat a conversation on Facebook that they’re having on Twitter. Most users want to create one social networking account and then take it, and the connections they’ve made, wherever they go on the Web. They want the interactions that they have on one site to migrate to the next. This is where the Internet is going and Google is giving Facebook a chance to make this happen. Why are they rejecting it?

If you’re Facebook you have a choice to make. You can either accept Google’s offer to help turn you into an open platform that users can tap into from anywhere on the Web or you can prepare to be outdated and replaced by something that does. It’s your call.

Sarah Lacy was quick to chime in that she doesn’t want Facebook to become an open platform. The reason she uses Facebook is because she knows that all of her information is kept tucked tightly inside. She doesn’t want her photos or messages escaping the walls and ending up in a Google search. And I totally get that, which is why there has to be some way to tier the information. I don’t want my Facebook photos showing up in Google, but I would like to have access to my connections on other sites. Not so that I can spam them into oblivion, but because we have mutual interests and if I find something in another corner of the Web, I want to be able to share it with them. There needs to be a way to do that.

I don’t often agree with Robert Scoble but he seems to be on the right path with his ideas of how we can separate information. He suggests creating three groups:

  1. Your social graph (IE, the map of who your friends are).
  2. Your friends’ info (IE, their email addresses, their birthdays, their relationship status, their political leanings, their gender, their favorite music and activities, and other stuff you’ll find on, say, Facebook’s profile).
  3. Your actual data. Say your photos, your videos, your status updates, and your wall posts.

I like Scoble’s groups, even though I don’t agree with him on how all of that data should be used. I want to be able to take that first group of information wherever I go. I don’t think I should be able to use that third group without permission. And I think the last group is totally off limits. And even if you don’t agree with his groups or how each segment should be used, it’s time to at least start having a conversation about it. Hopefully that’s what Facebook and Google will begin doing.

I can understand Facebook’s hesitation to align themselves with Google, but it’s the best way to turn their site into a platform and to move the Internet along. The Internet is by nature a social network. The early adopters are waiting for the company who understands that and is gutsy enough to step up and activate it. Will Facebook be that company? We’ll have to see.

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