The recent kerscobuffle around data portability got me thinking out loud about what the value of a social network really is – and by extension, any service that might claim to have “lock in” around our personal data.
For years now, a core (unresolved) issue in the Web 2 world has been data portability – with most of us – including me – arguing vaguely for the right to take our data where we want, when we want, without undue interference from the service that helped us aggregate it.
As the debate deepens, it seems there are two camps – first, the camp that says Facebook has either A. a right and/or B. an economic necessity to create a walled garden for our data. The second camp argues that Facebook – and any other walled garden – is A. Stupid or B. Greedy or C. Both.
I think I’ve been pretty consistent in my support of the less-than-nuanced second group of campers.
But I’m not entirely sure the debate is framed correctly. It assumes the key question is about whether or not the data can be ported. Instead the real value creation of a service is what that service allows a person to *do* with that data, once it’s found its way there.
To frame the discussion, think about the idea of competing on the lowest price. This has always been a major point of pain in retail commerce – how can I compete on price if my costs of goods sold is the same (or, shudder, *higher*) than my competitors? My answer is to change the game: Don’t compete on price. Compete on *service*.
An example. My local market charges far more for a good bottle of wine than many shops that are nearby. But there’s a wine guy who works at that market who knows wine cold, and who I trust. Also, the market is close to my home, and I have a personal relationship with the fellow (OK, here’s the reference to the book I’m working on – I have a “conversation” going with this merchant). Those factors, combined with a certain ambiance at the store that I really like, all lead to one result: I buy my wine at the more expensive store. Why? Because the store competes on more than price.
It’s time that services on the web compete on more than just the data they aggregate.
I think the data portability crowd is driven by this idea, in the main – once we have real data portability, personal data becomes a commodity, and services then live or die not on data lock in, but on *service* lock in. Imagine a world where my identity and my social graph is truly *mine*, and is represented in a machine readable manner. Were that the case, the entrepreneurial opportunities to create second order value are immense.
Is this the goal of Open Social? I’m not sure. Danny has pointed out how Google is of two mouths when it comes to the idea.
The problem is, no one seems ready to truly set the social graph free. Till now.
With one move, Facebook can change the face (sorry) of this debate by making it falling-down easy to export your social graph. And I predict that it will.
Why? Because I think in the end, Facebook will win based on the services it provides for that data. Set the data free, and it will come back to roost wherever it’s best used. And if Facebook doesn’t win that race, well, it’ll lose over time anyway. Such a move is entirely in line with the company’s nascent philosophy, and would be a massively popular move within the ouroborosphere (my name for all things Techmeme).
Compete on service, Facebook, it’s where the world is headed anyway!