The blogosphere -and with it everybody who is into web 2.0 – has been shaken by the announcement of Google’s Open Social API.
Well, obviously many people in- and outside the business have been confused by what Open Social is and what it really means. There have been lots of explanation but Tim O’Reilly brought it to a point everybody could easily follow. Myself included.
And in his eyes Open Social is not the big step it appeared to be. The new API Google has created and found partners for from various sites and developers simply allows the developers of application (like Flixxter) to build an app once using the API and by that make it work for all participating partners. It’s pretty hard to read that from any of the coverage even if you understand the programming part of APIs to a degree. So this is really all it does. Tim O’Reilly’s opinion:
Would OpenSocial let developers build a personal CRM system, a console where I could manage my social network, exporting friends lists to various social networks? No. Would OpenSocial let developers build a social search application like the one that Mark Cuban was looking for? No.
Set the data free! Allow social data mashups. That’s what will be the trump card in building the winning social networking platform.
You can not even remix data from various sources by using Open Social. So what actually needs to be done is to give the power to the people (=user) because we are still not able to move our data freely, which by the way is a core idea of the “Bill of rights for the Social Web” that was initiated by several noted bloggers. I remember an interview with Google CEO Eric Schmidt where he stated that it’s one of Google’s goals to make it possible for users to move their data between services, e.g. that emails could be completely moved to a Yahoo Mail account from a Google Mail account if the user wants to switch services. Furthermore I’d like my friends of one social network site (which actually just ressembles my real world social network to some degree) to be available in every other social network site I might be in or join later so that I don’t need to invite people or search for them again. Facebook does a smart thing by scanning my GoogleMail account for friends but that’s as far as it gets nowadays. Of course O’Reilly also had this idea and called it a “Social Network Operating System” which is the reason nobody has to come up with it, it just needs to be made. Open Social is not it.
Another thing I realized recently is that there are examples for web 2.0 sites that don’t let you delete your data or your account properly. I’m a huge fan of Zooomr, I keep most of my photos there, but I had to find out that there is not proper way of deleting your account by yourself and that even the admins are not able to completely remove all data on an account. That made me wonder and I looked for an appropriate option at various services.
Facebook offers an option to deactivate your account. But as you can easily read from the word your data is not deleted, it is instead removed from all means of access (search, links etc.) but if you decide to come back to Facebook later you can login and your data is restored for you which means it was never really gone. In my understanding you cannot control what is done with your data while your not having an eye on it. There should be a way to save the data locally and restore it from their if that’s necessary.
My Google Account can be deleted with all the accounts on services I’ve been using, however it is not said that Google doesn’t keep a backup although I would assume the best and believe everything is really gone.
The german StudiVZ offers a “Delete Account” button and promises to delete all data within 48 hours. The same option is available on plazes.com, where they say:
We don’t just delete your profile, we eliminate every comment, picture or activity you ever posted on Plazes.com. Just so you know, all that history and time it took you—poof! Gone without a trace!
So far so good, obviously most sites at least offer a decent way to kill your virtual presence. I think that is the least amount of control over your data one should have. But of course it should be possible to move data and parts of data freely between services. That would even allow more specialised and intimate social network sites for certain interests without causing too much trouble to keep track of them all. I think it’s counterproductive -and very much against the idea of Web 2.0 – to lock people inside a single platform and it gives big players like Google (and Yahoo and Microsoft) the advantage because they can integrate their services into one big cloud and offer much better interoperability. Google does this best with connecting a blogging platform (Blogger), a photo platform (PicasaWeb), a social network (orkut) with some really usefull webapps (GMail, Calendar, Docs, Search, Maps etc.). Of course, at this point the user interest might collide very harshly with the commercial interests because why would anybody let their users go? We’ll see who will win that one in the end.