While charities wonder about whether and how to use social networking sites like Facebook, Bebo, and Orkut, a storm is brewing around the problem of ‘the walled garden’ or in geek speak, data portability.
In short, the problem is if you use Facebook, you can’t talk to Bebo users or Orkut users, and vise versa. Each service is like a walled garden on the internet. If your friends use Facebook, you need to use Facebook to talk to them. It’s a bit like having a multitude of mobile phone networks, where people can only talk to other people that use the same network.
If some of your friends use Facebook, and some use Bebo, you either have to choose which group to communicate with or open one account in each, and do twice as much work keeping them up to date. Not only that, but if you want to switch from Facebook to Orkut for example, you can’t get ‘your stuff’ from Facebook. Your data is not portable. If you want it on Orkut or Bebo, you have to recreate it from from scratch.
Quite frankly, that goes against the grain of the internet. The reason the internet is such a powerful communications medium is because there are flexible, standardized ways of doing things. Social networking sites break this tradition, and everyone pays the price. It’s not good for developers of social networking applications. It’s not good for users, and it’s not even good for social networking sites. And of course, it’s not good for charities: do you have a Facebook page, a Bebo page, and Orkut page, or one of everything? Does your charity have a Facebook app, a Bebo app, and Orkut app, or one of everything?
Efforts are being made to standardize via the Data Portability project. But it’s not always smooth sailing. For the latest war news, have a look at Google Friend Connect Disabled By Facebook on Publishing 2.0.