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Social Networking sites get together in data alliance

23 January, 2008
By Allison Orr

Recent tensions between rival social networking sites have highlighted questions about who owns the data associated with people’s identities and has led to the establishment of a working group to work out some of these problems.

In a recent example of this, Facebook shut down the account of a blogger, Robert Scoble, who used a utility from rival site, Plaxo, to extract his contact list from Facebook and export them to his Plaxo contacts database.  Plaxo had been developing the Facebook import tool for roll out for general use, and Scoble agreed to test the utility by trying to import his 5,000 Facebook friends.  This action resulted in the suspension of his Facebook account.  According to John McCrea, Plaxo’s vice president of marketing, "the paranoid folks at Facebook didn't like the idea of letting Robert get his friends list out, and shut him down".  Facebook has been criticised in the past for closed standards and attempting to create a 'walled garden'.  But Facebook supporters have pointed out that using the tool was against Facebook’s Terms and Conditions, and would have resulted in the contact details of all Scoble’s contacts going into Plaxo’s database.  The account was reinstated after Scoble, agreed to stop using the utility.

After months of arguments, disputes, and showdowns such as this (which some have named 'Scoblegate'), some of the biggest social networking sites, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn and Plaxo, have signed up to an alliance called the DataPortability Workgroup.  This group aims to create uniform platforms for identity data management across different social networking platforms.  According to their announcement, "this means users will be able to access their friends and media across all the applications, social networking sites and widgets that implement the design into their systems".  Developers can now develop applications that are not confined to one particular social networking platform and can allow you to maintain your “social graph” on the community of your choice.

The DataPortability Workgroup, whose motto appers to be "sharing is caring", is a huge step forward for these online rivals to work together to create a system that will better serve users and address some privacy concerns about how contact details are managed and maintained online.

For further information on the Workgroup, including the mission statement, roadmap, action packs, and FAQs, see DataPortability.org.  Googlegroups are running some public forums so that people can get involved with the discussions at http://groups.google.com/group/dataportability-public/topics

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