Google and the Data Portability Dance
"Social is going mainstream. It used to be hard and proprietary; it's becoming easy and open."
That's the confident proclamation Google Director of Product Engineering David Glazer made Monday to trumpet the arrival of not only Google's Friend Connect data portability service, but those of MySpace and Facebook, which launched in quick succession Thursday and Friday last week.
Three major data portability chess moves in three business days. How can anyone stand it? Techies who are doing drill-downs into Friend Connect, MySpace Data Availability and Facebook Connect must be seized by headaches of seismic proportions. There is a lot to digest, despite Glazer's claim.
The approaches from MySpace and Facebook are more similar, as you might expect. As full-fledged social networks, MySpace and Facebook are allowing users to move their profile content -- picture, interests, etc. -- to participating Web sites. In MySpace's case, that's eBay, Yahoo, Twitter and Photobucket. In Facebook's case, well, we don't know yet, but the company has cited Digg as a potential use case.
Google is a different, more complicated animal. The company doesn't have a whopping social network (apologies to Orkut) loaded with social content to distribute to Web sites. So it's enabling the next best thing: the dispersal of widgets that allow social data to flourish.
Basically, Google is creating and encouraging the creation of apps based on the OpenSocial APIs. Similar to Google Gadgets, Friend Connect apps will be in a gallery. But while MySpace and Facebook free up users' data, Google doesn't have that data to free up, so it puts the power in the hands of Web site operators.
Those Web site owners will add the apps to their sites, letting users decide if they want to incorporate their profile information. It's data portability, second hand.
I have some questions. One, what about security? MySpace, Facebook and Google will all likely have to support the same security protocols to enable this new level of openness. MySpace supports OAUTH for its effort. Facebook hasn't announced support for any protocol. Google is hugging OpenID and OAUTH.
But it's only a matter of time before the vendors embrace all of the credible authentication and Web site access standards.
"It's like credit cards; they'll have to take Visa and MasterCard," Sterling Market Intelligence's Greg Sterling told me. Sterling and I also agreed that we weren't sure how MySpace, Facebook and Google would make money from this, and in the early stages of rollout and experimentation we're not likely to hear much about that.
For example, Sterling suggested Google leverage Google Gadget Ads for Friend Connect, but Google wouldn't commit to that one way or the other. Indeed, that is not Glazer's area of expertise, but you can bet the AdSense group will be watching this rollout closely over the next several months.
ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick asked the perfectly valid question of why Google, MySpace and Facebook came at their solutions independently, rather than together under the aegis of The Data Portability Project. I thought about it, and I'm reminded of the Web services standard wars between IBM and Microsoft and Sun and Oracle.
You have to draw battle lines somewhere (and we will know in months whether customers don't like these lines). If you are Google, MySpace and Facebook and you want to enable data portability, you all want to be interoperable and support the same standards to allow users to take data wherever.
But you also want to eventually monetize your efforts via social ads, so you don't want to work too closely together, or you'll cancel each other out. I realize these vendors all point to market research and say "plenty of pie" for everyone, but that goes out the window where uncharted territory is concerned.
You want to have different approaches to see what sticks. By testing different approaches and seeing what shakes out, you can gain a competitive advantage. If Friend Connect facilitates advertisers to place more ads through AdSense, Google will have an advantage over MySpace and Facebook.
This is important; at the end of the day, these initiatives are all about defending the advertising fortresses.