Darren Waters

My so-called digital life

  • Darren Waters
  • 10 May 08, 09:27 GMT

Michael Arrington has an interesting post at the top of TechCrunch right now.

He's predicting that Google is going to launch a product called Friend Connect on Monday.

In essence, he says, Friend Connect is "a set of APIs for Open Social participants to pull profile information from social networks into third party websites".

Open Social is a collection of tools shared by web services - from MySpace, to Orkut and to Linked In - that allows interoperability of elements like gadgets and applications.

Friend Connect is different from using tools like RSS to pull in information to a website or profile page because the data portability will be two way.

At the moment I can pull my Flickr photos into my Facebook profie, for example, but I cannot alter, add or delete those photos on Flickr from Facebook. I can't add photos to Facebook that are automatically added to Flickr, for example.

If Friend Connect is launched, this is interesting because it is part of a growing trend to turn our scattered digital footprints into something akin to our digital DNA.

At the moment my digital footprints are randomly placed across a multiplicity of sites - from Flickr, to Twitter, Google Calendar, Friendfeed, Facebook, blogs, Ovi, YouTube, Blip TV, Delicious, Google Reader shared items and many others where I've long since stopped updating my information - from Linked In to Upcoming.

Like many people I have a few key hubs and these companies are realising that it makes more sense to let people share their data across websites than trying to lock them into a walled garden.

Why does it make more sense? From a user point of view no one site will ever be able to fulfill all of our digital needs so a single website will always live in fear of a user simply moving his or her data to a different walled garden that happens to have better flowers or a better view.

My 13-year-old Niece, for example, has just abandoned Bebo and de-camped to Facebook, taking all her friends with her.

But if sites let data move freely between these different gardens then users have no reason to leave. So my niece could be on both Bebo and Facebook at the same time.

From a website point of view, it would be a much more powerful proposition to advertisers. Personalised advertising is becoming more and more sophisticated and imagine what they could do with information collated not just from my status updates and profile, but also my GPS-tagged photos and video etc.

This is why MySpace announced something similar on Thursday and why Facebook followed suit a day later.

Arrington believes that "whoever is a player in this space is likely to control user data over the long run."

I'm not quite sure what he means by "control user data" but I think he senses that while data is given more license to roam we will always gravitate to a few hubs and key players, such as MySpace, Facebook or the Google-led Open Social.

These different islands are beginning to build bridges to different services, and the members of Google's Open Social movement, seen in the past as rivals, are also forging links to one another.

One of the key tests of these new linked services, however, will be accountability.

If my data is flowing between different web services, and therefore different firm's data centres, how do I get my information off those services?

Do I have to make one request or 20? If companies are committed to allowing us to share our data across different companies as simply as possible they should also make it just as easy to remove our data.

At the moment I feel, perhaps mistakenly, that I have control over my own data. But once my hubs start to share my data, who controls it?


  • Comment number 1.

    This was always coming - the Q is when. Let us wait till Monday!

  • Comment number 2.

    This is interesting, and I look forward to seeing what Google does in this space. Not because I need any help with my social footprint, but simply to see the trail google leaves rather than the path to follow

  • Comment number 3.

    Monday will, no doubt be full of headlines about this next move by Google.

    Whilst I am a fan of Google and its products, if only because they are very reliable and fast, will the sharing of our digital footprint across sites mean that we will loose control of, or know, where any of our data is, or who can access it, I fear so.

    Developers of the Internet will have to instil confidence into users about the security of our personal data if they wish us to continue to use their services.

  • Comment number 4.

    Welcome to the early adapters sandbox!

    Although we think of the 'established' 2.0 offerings as being old-hat; Facebook, Twitter, Pownce etc are still amazingly recent. As recently as September 2005, Facebook was still only open to people at highschool!

    What I'm saying here, is that these are the extremely early days of these kind of massive online data sharing or social media sites.

    The big problem now; keeping your digital life under control, is being addressed by a number of start-ups as well as people like Google. I expect that with time, the whole thing will be a lot more joined up.

    Remember - whenever there's an obvious service missing on the Internet - some bright spark gets a few million dollars VC money and fixes it!

    Jim Connolly
    The Ideas Blog

  • Comment number 5.

    Are services like claimID not taking useful first steps toward creating a "digial DNA"? Here my public identity links to all my other webactivites and profiles. It is not the kind of dynamic information flow you are talking about of course. But it does offer a coherent picture tied to one identity.

  • Comment number 6.

    Google is become a Microsoft Clone. Copying technology that others have patented. It could soon be in BIG trouble.

    But then Google, Microsoft are the cowboys of the software world.

    The idea of universal id is not new but it has recently caught attention.

    So like Microsoft copied the mac interface for its windows and thereafter with every thing they created, Google is copying the likes of Facebook and others.

    Interestingly, the idea of having personal data portability and universal id caught the imagination of companies such as Facebook, Google, etc after a relatively obscure company called NetAlter Software published its patent called NetAlter and outlined on its website that it proposes to develop an alternative to the internet or the present web.

    So, wonder what their lawyers are up to!!!

  • Comment number 7.

    The announcements from MySpace, Facebook and now Google are broadly to be welcomed. They will help facilitate the next wave of social networking, which will see specialist, more focused sites providing much more relevent content for users (which will also benefit advertisers, who beyond capital funds will be paying for such sites to prosper).

    Whereas today you would need to register your details, build a profile and build a new contact network with you on each site that interests you, this will make it easier for you to take those common elements around with you to each new site.

    I think fears that you may not be able to delete yourself from such sites are unfounded, as your details will only go to sites your authorise and you can go back to those sites to delete any additional information you left there, as of now.

    In my mind, however, what would be better still is that 'independent' sites hold and manage your identity and friends lists, plus provide a list of all the sites you have authorised this information be extended to. I know OpenID innovators like ClickPass ( are working on such things. And I believe it wouldn't be hard for Google with iGoogle, effectively becoming a point of entry and aggregrator to all the web's other social networking sites. Maybe Friend Connect just greases the wheels for a bigger announcement yet to come...?

    Ian Hendry

  • Comment number 8.

    The open source community are becoming very agitated with the pressure being applied to get them to endorse web 2.0 applications, I am sure the story is set to run and run

    Peter Arkwright

  • Comment number 9.

    Oh, enough with the self-promotion! Your full names are of no concern to anyone, neither are your schmaltzy new-media businesses or your market executive jargon.

    Whatever happened to anonymity?

  • Comment number 10.

    It was indeed a natural progression. With social networking being hailed as the next big thing for a couple of years, then this was a savvy release.

    Particularly the global 'credit crunch', networking of all sorts, whether business or otherwise, has become increasingly important, and this is surely set to continue in the future.



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