I am getting more and more cautious about my use of Facebook, not because I don’t appreciate the service it provides, but because of its more and more slippery stance regarding privacy. What was once held sacred behind the locked doors of, “friending,” is becoming more and more open. Pictures, interests, work and education history, all of them are becoming forcibly unlocked slowly by slowly. For me, it’s not even that the Facebook company promotes openness with one’s information or operates on the philosophy that if you have nothing to hide, why not share? Instead, what angers me more is that there is no option to lock yourself down. Give people the opportunity to be forthwith, but also give people the opportunity to be private.
This is where standards need to come into play. Marching hand in hand with the philosophy of data openness is the philosophy of data standards. I fully understand the proprietary software and service model (though I don’t subscribe to it myself), and will support its continued existence (while also fighting it), but what I don’t understand and cannot easily support is proprietary data, data formatting and data access. Data should be open and for that we have data standards.
Standards are independent and agreed upon by multiple competing parties so that no one party gets an advantage through data lock-in (e.g. Microsoft Word being the only application that can read Microsoft Word documents), and instead, business and software-development focus is returned to producing the best application with the best features to outsell competitors. However, when there exist monopolies, standards almost never exist.
Facebook is currently an effective monopoly, though it technically has competition in the form of MySpace and a few other general social networking sites. Thankfully this is just the end of the first generation of social networking. The second generation, which I cannot wait for, is just around the corner… I hope.
This second generation will breed a far more agile social networking model based on social-networking data standards. The building blocks are already there, and some proof of concepts exist, as well as models in other industries to follow. Let’s break it down:
- XMPP already exists as a standard in messaging and chat functionality. One down.
- Photo websites such as Flickr already have API‘s for providing access to photos, album-ing and even now, tagging.
- Google’s OpenSocial platform provides a set of tools for creating social-based applications similar to the Facebook Apps platform, which could also be used to replicate the functionality of other, pre-existing services (don’t worry, you can still have your FarmVille).
- Several Microformats exist for standardizing the way we share personal information, and even how we relate to other people we know on the Internet.
- The existence of the .tel Top-Level Domain provides one-stop shopping for contact information.
- Web applications such as Twitter and Identi.ca have proven the feasibility of short-messaging, “status-like,” updates.