I get asked often by clients, reporters and media folk and others about Facebook’s recent Terms of Service updates, essentially saying they own their users data and have a right to do as they wish with their data. They’ve turned around on that and will be releasing newly revised Terms soon, but at least they’re being honest about it. The thing is, any service on the internet you belong to, which includes Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed, even Gmail, and more, owns your data. It’s their right to change their Terms for their users any time they want, and the only choice you’ll have at that point is to leave the service, or continue on, recognizing what you already knew – that what you’ve stored on their service is theirs to own forever. I think people have come to accept that – they just get all up in arms when it’s thrown in their face.
The thing is, as a brand, you can’t afford for this to happen. Owning, and losing rights to your data can make or break your business. People take risks to be able to take shortcuts and survive by joining such services, and frankly, it’s important to still have a presence on these services because people are talking about your brand and you could be missing out on that conversation. But can you really trust your content on such services? What if Twitter, or Google, or FriendFeed were to pull a Facebook and with the drop of a hat own all your previous data. They are within right to do so – you gave them that right when you signed up for their service.
The Social Web Needs More Open Protocols
We were discussing on FriendFeed today how the new FriendFeed beta, with its real-time nature, is a lot like IRC, and enables people to chat, in a completely new way, in real time. The thing is, it’s not at all like IRC. IRC is an open protocol. It’s software businesses can own, modify, and change to their hearts content. They can wrap their brand around it. With IRC a business has the ability to own the community that subsides within the environment they set up, on their own servers.
Not FriendFeed, or even Twitter enable this capability, which is why if they don’t adapt in the future things will change. Facebook is attempting to address this with their Connect product, and that’s a step in the right direction. Facebook also provides quite a bit of their underlying developer platform code, as open source, freely and openly to the community, also a step in the right direction, but they can always do more.
Keep in mind that this is all about owning your own community. Can Guy Kawasaki set his own rules about what is, and isn’t spammy? Can Leo Laporte provide a Geek-friendly environment for his TWIT Army? Can ESPN provide a sports-enthusiast friendly environment for Football fans, and properly advertise and provide things, in their own way, that those fans would appreciate? You can’t do this on any of the networks right now (with the exception of Facebook Connect).
Laconi.ca is headed in the right direction on this. As is Automattic, and SixApart. They all have their own major services, but all of their services enable you to focus on owning your own community. And even if you don’t have enough control, they provide you the source code to give you the control you need, should you need it. This is the future!
Why does this matter to the end-user?
You may think, well, I’m not a business. I’m just a casual user so this doesn’t matter to me. I’m willing to bet if you’re an Athletics fan, or a Boston Red Sox fan, or a 49ers fan, or a Mom, or even a Dad, that you put much more interest in those things than you do the brand name Twitter or FriendFeed or Facebook. Those things are your real life! Now imagine if those brands started to give you a way you could communicate with like-minded individuals, and what if different brands could talk with each other? This is one reason Facebook is going to succeed, and one reason Laconi.ca is going to succeed, because I can chat in the environment I want, and my friends all still get to hear me! As an end user, and especially a brand targeting that end user, that’s powerful!
This is why TodaysMama Connect is seeing great participation in their new Connect community for Moms. Now, with their service, Moms can connect with each other without having to sift through the massive data mine of Twitter. At the same time, TodaysMama gets to own and control the community in a way that works well for Moms and is inviting for them, while maintaining their brand image. You see the same with Leo Laporte’s TWIT army, and I’m already talking to several other major brands that are considering the same.
How do you control your data?
Will the future be full of everyone creating their own communities of “followers”, competing for who visits their site and embraces the community? It’s possible, but that’s far down the road. We need more open standards. The Twitters, the FriendFeeds, and the Facebooks all need to be providing and leading these open standards and serving instead of being data hoards, becoming network Connectors, providing ways to connect multiple smaller networks with each other. They need to be the directories and the places where people can go to find each community. They need to be the search, and the stream of the “brand-owned” data, and providing as many ways as possible for those brands to completely own and customize the experience for their own communities. Their role is the glue of the Open Web.
Let’s truly make these services the IRC of the Social Web. Thank you, Laconi.ca and Automattic, and SixApart for leading the way.
Photo Courtesy Eric Kilby