Thursday, February 26, 2009

Response to: Facebook and the Future of User Generated Governance

It’s been a big day for news related to Facebook and its user base. I already blogged about a great article by Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb, and now I’m adding to the comments of Brian Solis who addresses this issue from a completely different perspective:

“I for one am excited about bringing the user directly into the governance process. In Facebook’s instance, I believe this has been happening reactively in increasing measure over the last 12 months. Facebook acts, the user reacts, and the process refines and moves on – probably not in the way Facebook originally thought, certainly subject to loud vocalization, but definitely in a direction that is ultimately good for the user base.

A more involved user base can change the reactive nature of this beast to a proactive partnership – good for all. However, this same principal applied to technological leadership and innovation can have an adverse effect. Any good developer will tell you that it is foolish to ignore the target audience, but every great developer will also espouse the benefit of solitary brilliance. Ultimately, the best solutions from the technological perspective find that balance between good and great, between audience participation and singular inspiration.

Hopefully, Facebook will find the balance in all of these areas. I for one am hopeful.”

Steve Repetti

Response to: Facebook Management Has Lost Its Grip on Reality

Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb just published a significant article about Facebook and its increasingly evolving policies. Here was my response:

“Great article, Marshall!

The big message that all Facebook users should take away from all of this is that they can make a difference. Facebook made an announcement, lots of folks registered their opinions loudly, and Facebook’s position moved. Where it moved to, I think the jury is still out on that one – and it’s still moving.

Regarding Data Portability, remember it wasn’t so long ago that it was inconceivable that Facebook would make as much progress as they have, and, as trail blazers, they’re still trying to figure it out. And, that’s were all of us, the users, still get to make a difference. Now is the time for advocacy, for everyone to speak their minds about the issues and register their two cents.

Steve Repetti

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Scrapplet and xWinLib Announce Support for Apple’s New Safari Release

Apple computer today released a beta of their terrific browser, Safari, for both Windows and the Mac. Jason Biggs over at TechCrunch talks about it in his article “Safari 4: finally a reason to come back” and references the significant feature list and press release from Apple.

In my opinion, this is a really big deal and hopefully a sign of things to come. This is more than an incremental release and brings to Windows users a powerful and sexy alternative to IE, Firefox, and the other browsers. My initial reaction to the new Safari is: WOW! And. I say this for a couple of reasons: first, it really is sexy and follows the Apple mantra of easy to use. But, more importantly to me and the users of Scrapplet and xWinLib technologies, it works great and is fast!

As many of you know Scrapplet and xWinLib are extremely advanced browser-based applications/technologies that seek to normalize the complexities of the different browsers available today across a variety of platforms. As such, I am always interested in new developments in browser products and technologies and in particular I want to know if compatibility is seamlessly tied to innovation. I am delighted to say that the engineers at Apple have done a terrific job in both areas as Safari 4 works flawlessly with both Scrapplet and xWinlib-based applications. It installed easily, fired up, and in seconds I was dragging and dropping content, mashing up everything from all over the web.

Now, if Apple could just implement a world-class plugin infrastructure and object repository…

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Scrapplet integrates Facebook's new Comment Widget

Scrapplet releases support for Facebook’s new comments object. Just select it from the Scrapplet object gallery (objects -> object gallery -> Comment- Facebook) and click or drag it onto your page. Seamlessly integrate with Facebook’s messaging system via Scrapplet integration with Facebook connect.

Now that Facebook’s comment widget is an integrated object within Scrapplet, it automatically inherits all of Scrapplet’s object properties, including appearance options, extended event handling, and even OpenAjax hub interaction.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Data Portability User Bill of Rights

The following is provided in response to a request from the Data Portability EULA/TOS task force. The intent is to provide the basis for conversation related to identifying and quantifying the specific elements that might make up a user’s DP “Bill of Rights.”

[There is a great related discussion entitled “A Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web” originated by Joseph Smarr, Robert Scoble, and Michael Arrington; and signed by more than two dozen leading individuals]

More specifically, to me, when I go to a web site I should have a reasonable expectation as to what I can and cannot do with the data that I bring, create, or reference within the site. And, I should also have reasonable understanding as to what the site owners can and cannot due with this collection of data related to me.

On the on hand, it doesn’t really matter what those boundaries are – provided they are disclosed up front and upheld throughout my relationship with the site. In this manner, I can make an informed decision as to whether or not I choose to continue. On the other hand, there must be disclosure, transparency, and accountability for this to work.

Ideally, I would go to a web site and there would prominently sit a Data Portability badge that identified the points of compliance in these areas that I am most concerned about. Display of the badge would provide the disclosure and transparency that I seek allowing me to make an informed decision. Likewise, display of the badge would also demonstrate accountability since the TOS identifying allowable usage of the badge would require compliance.

Further, the badge would not likely simply state compliance or non-compliance, rather “degrees” of participation. In a well structured user bill of rights, it is not likely that every site I choose to participate in will fully support every core tenant of Data Portability. I should be able to quickly identify which of the core elements that most interest me relevant to the site are in fact supported by the site.

Some of the key elements in this matter are directly related to privacy, usage, and control. From this we can then extrapolate a series of compliance statements that hopefully begin to take the shape of a user’s “bill of rights.” Specifically:

Key concepts:
- Data I bring, I have the right to take away
- Data I create, I have the right to share
- I have the right to choose who can and cannot access my data
- I have the right to access my data internally and externally

Specific questions:
- User personal data is private (y/n)
- Private data is secured (y/n)
- Personal data is fully removed upon request (y/n)
- Personal data is not sold or reused without permission (y/n)
- User data is accessible outside of the website (y/n)
- User data is available using industry standard formats (which ones)

Fringe thoughts:
- Public posts can be retracted (y/n)
- Public posts can be anonymous (y/n)

There is certainly more thought required in this area, both from me and others. Love to get everyone else’s opinions on the matter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Facebook does about-face, shows true colors – and we like the aura!?

Having previously put its foot down regarding the proprietary nature of its instant messaging (see: Facebook bullies IM-provider Meebo), Facebook has demonstrated its desire to open its world to the masses by now embracing Meebo and their support of instant messaging via Facebook Connect.

Jason Kincaid of TechCrunch points out that this has been a contentious relationship with anyone’s bet as to the outcome. Yet here we are barely 30 days after a public smack down and Facebook is touting the very company they were previously dissing. So, what’s really going one here?

Meebo tried to provide a valued service that real-world customers craved. Facebook pointed out that such effort violated its terms of service and wielded the big hand of the giant (meaning, if we don’t provide it – you can’t). Meebo said, “yes --- but can’t we all just get along?” And then…clarity set in. Facebook affirmed that they were in fact the giant, but realized that the giant is not necessarily the enemy of the populous; and that life shared was life to be enjoyed – by ALL.

More importantly, the giant has revealed that it can dance to popular music and stay in step with the desire of the masses. This is an important precedent (one that Microsoft and Yahoo should pay more attention too), and one that we can only hope is an indication of things to come. Data portability is the enabler that allows these things to happen, and acceptance of such need is the vehicle that drives evolution, revolution, and enlightenment of the giant.

To me, Facebook has always been that elusive idea that always avoided the mainstream, that was happy living in the fringes of my vision, and that survived by not intruding on my day to day. But, particularly recently, Facebook has elevated itself to a position of leadership – of showing the way that, while not perfect, nevertheless demonstrates movement in the right direction. To quote Herbert, “The Sleeper has Awoken” -- and we all do really wish that it is everything we hope it can be!

But is this really enough, or is it just baby-steps in disguise of innovation? Opening up to another service is one thing, but embracing open standards and providing integration leadership is another thing altogether. This announcement lacks the embracement of existing and open methodologies in favor of proprietary solutions provided at the direction and discretion of the giant.

Even so, is this a step in the right direction? Absolutely. Is it enough? Not a chance. On the one hand users should smack Facebook for ignoring the entrenched standards that form the pillars of openness, on the other, they should applaud them (and encourage them) for finally moving in the right direction. But we should ALL remind Facebook that this is a work in progress and to not stray from the path. We encourage the effort and look forward to the next steps on the path to enlightenment – and ready the whip for deviation.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Facebook’s Move to “Openness” Setting de facto Standard?

Yesterday, Facebook took a further step in opening its network by introducing enhancements and new features to its developer APIs. Facebook’s new APIs make it easier for applications to update user statuses, links, and upload videos from outside of Facebook. This effort will likely generate a flurry of activity in the developer community as new applications are created and existing ones enhanced to take advantage of these new capabilities.

[Add to this the earlier announcement of Facebook’s support of OpenID and things are definitely starting to get interesting]

But beyond the power and convenience of integration and data portability from external sources, the real story lies just below the surface. Facebook is striving to become the ultimate repository for all of your social-media information and this is another step along that path. Their platform is becoming a global data-store and their APIs are empowering developers and users with standardized methods of interaction.

On the one hand there is very little about this that is open. Facebook controls the data, its access, and its availability. Facebook defines the integration, they determine the protocols, and the APIs, and even who can and cannot use any of this. This “openness” is all under the oversight, control, direction, and whim of the giant.

Yet, when you think about it, Facebook has made huge strides in extending its world beyond the looming walls of their garden. And, while I don’t think this was their original intent, they have nevertheless listened to their user base and observed the opportunity the market presents.

Some may call it baby steps, others an attempt at world domination. But the winner today is the user (and yes, it’s pretty good for Facebook too!); and the benefits continue to evolve. Along the way, these initiatives will provide new and innovative methods for interaction with users and data that may lead to de facto standards for data portability. Will that actually happen? That depends on Facebook’s “real” position on openness, the user’s tolerance and acceptance of that position, and the response from the other great giant seeking dominance in the global data-store market – Google.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Chris Messina just pointed out an awesome blog post regarding microformats in 2009 (thanks Chris!) -- this has EVERYTHING to do with Data Portability, your rights, and the web. Check out the post from Ben Ward in the UK and see for yourself!