The DataPortability WorkGroup is primed to gain some real traction thanks to the enlistment of Google, Facebook and Plaxo this week.
Representatives from these vendors, along with folks from Flickr, Twitter, SixApart, Yahoo and others in the group, will work on the DataPortability Reference Design, which will let users access their friends and media across any applications, social networking sites and widgets.
That Google and Plaxo joined is pretty much an afterthought for me. The ability to move data between social networks is what OpenSocial is supposed to be about, and Plaxo's Pulse is the epitome of such a phenomenon, so much so that data needs be portable if Pulse is going to work and Plaxo is to stay viable long enough for Yahoo or someone else to buy it.
Seriously though, folks in the blogosphere are making a big deal about Facebook joining because, well, companies such as Plaxo have been complaining that Facebook is a closed entity composed of two distinct sides: people who get the data portability thing and want to be open and those who set policy and want to keep control.
Plaxo's John McCrea told me recently Facebook believes there is only one social graph, and that exists within Facebook's walled garden.
Surely, no one can really believe the social graph should exist in one company. The notion is absurd and goes against the very notion of a social structure. My question for Facebook: Is it user privacy you're so concerned about, or just keeping the walled garden intact?
That sense of control you feel is false; the people own the social graph, so get used to it. Look how many people flocked to Robert Scoble's aid when it was perceived that he was booted for yanking out data.
It was more than the people who complained that Scoble was stealing their data, though their cries were heard loud and clear and underscore the privacy and security challenges that will face any entity trying to free data from social silos.
The participation of Facebook's Benjamin Ling in DataPortability shows the company gets the openness ideal, or at least pretends like it does. His joining Dataportability.org shows a thawing in Facebook's stance, at least from the outside world's perspective. Only the folks inside know what the climate is really like.
I'm inclined to think the company is just really bad at public relations and is, in fact, no different in mindset than Google, Plaxo, LinkedIn or any of the other social networks or wannabes. It has just made some highly publicized mistakes, such as Beacon, and now the populace generally thinks it is proprietary and eat-your-children evil.
I think DataPortability is gaining steam at the right time and I applaud both the vendors supporting it.
But here are my concerns: I watched IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Sun Microsystems, typically through OASIS and the W3C, duke it out in Web services wars for five+ years before various efforts were actually implemented. This resulted in a lot of wasted time and some failed projects.
I just hope the social computing scene is new and flexible enough to avoid the bureaucracy that plagued the WS* efforts. Here is to hoping Google's Brad Fitzpatrick and Facebook's Ling (a former Googler) can play nice in the sandbox. Is that too much to hope for?