DataPortability - Facebook to play along

Facebook, Google And Plaxo Join The DataPortability Workgroup. So, parts of the blogosphere are quite excited by the news that Facebook, previously criticised for being a closed system, has agreed to join the DataPortability Workgroup. According to Duncan Riley, the author of this TechCrunch post:

The DataPortability Workgroup is actively working to create the ‘DataPortability Reference Design’ to document the best practices for integrating existing open standards and protocols for maximum interoperability (and here’s the key area) to allow users to access their friends and media across all the applications, social networking sites and widgets that implement the design into their systems.

Of course we can only speculate on the real significance of this. While Facebook would not be impossible to copy and compete with a technical level, especially for someone with the resources of Google or Yahoo or the like, it is the established user-base, and consequently the brand, which would be very difficult to match.

It seems clear to me that Facebook has been looking for ways to open up access to its data - it has to in order to be able to exploit it beyond the simple 'page view' advertising model. But Facebook has already found this difficult - witness the strange mistakes they made with RSS and the Beacon debacle.

What the participation in the DataPortability initiative gains Facebook is three-fold:

  1. Facebook becomes immune to the 'walled-garden' accusation for the short/medium term
  2. Facebook is not alone in navigating the uncharted territory of social network portability
  3. If DataPortability actually delivers, it puts competitors on the same playing field as Facebook - rather than Facebook being scrutinised and expected to lead the way

However this pans out, it is certainly a boost for the credibility of the DataPortability initiative - I'll be keeping an eye on this now.