Attempts to buck the system and stick it to the digital “man” will rock the blogosphere every time, especially when the battleground is data portability and the adversaries are a celebrity blogger and an increasingly infamous social network.
In the latest incident, Facebook disabled blogger Robert Scoble’s account after he ran a script on the social network that screen scrapes data. Call Scoble the Facebook Digibomber.
Scoble characterized the software as a Facebook importer that works just like any other address book importer, noting that it only collects names, e-mail addresses and birthdays. The tool divined that of the 5,000 people (5,000! — he could start a private university, Scoble U) in his Facebook account about 1,800 were already on Plaxo.
Scoble said he merely wanted get all of the contacts into my Microsoft Outlook address book and hook them up with the Plaxo system.
The former Microsoft employee swears the tool did NOT look at any social graph data.
“It’s ironic that you can import your Gmail address book into Facebook but you can’t export back out,” Scoble summarized his sentiment in a post.
People sick of Facebook’s refusal to allow data to be extracted for use on other sites cheered, offering the solid argument that data gets lifted from Facebook all of the time.
And there are a lot of people out there, according to the majority of supporters rallying behind Scoble; just look at the responses to his last post. A Facebook account has also been opened to support the Facebook Digibomber.
People who observed that Scoble broke the rules said he deserved what he got.
The battle is this: social sites such as Facebook steamroll the data portability issue by citing privacy concerns but they are increasingly being forced into untenable positions by people tired of managing their social data across multiple accounts.
What matters will be the fall out for Facebook, which has already suffered from the Beacon fiasco and report of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s unflattering university behavior.
Can Facebook withstand another deluge of poor PR? Will Scoble’s script be the gremlin in the machinery? I don’t know. Facebook hasn’t responded to my requests for comment. My guess is Facebook will stand fast for now.
Somehow, there are lessons Google and other young social networking purveyors can learn here.
Scoble was the sacrificial lamb, and by shutting him out of his data, they are putting him in the digital wilderness in a log cabin somewhere, cut off from his data. If that isn’t a cause for a digital rally around data portability, I don’t know what is.
Ironic that this little brouhaha comes on the same day Plaxo is rumored to be up for sale, no?
UPDATE: Scoble resinstated on Facebook.