Open is a competitive advantage

Being open — or at least wanting to appear open — seems to be gaining some traction: senior execs from LinkedIn, Flickr and SixApart have joined the Data Portability working group, the same one that representatives from Facebook, Plaxo and Google joined a couple of days ago. And according to TechCrunch UK, there are other moves afoot: Google, IBM and Verisign are said to be close to joining the group behind OpenID. One is designed to make it easier to move your data from place to place, and the other is aimed at making it easier to use a single sign-in for different services.

When I wrote about the Facebook and Plaxo news, I got some criticism in the comments and elsewhere for making too big a deal out of it. The companies in question were just joining a working group, many people said, not making any actual changes — and it’s true that such industry groups can become a little like the Bermuda Triangle, with good ideas circling in an endless spiral, unable to escape (there are some good tips on fake openness here).

Still, I think having them join is better than nothing. Marshall Kirkpatrick also notes in his post that these aren’t just deputy assistant coffee-fetchers from Google and LinkedIn and the other companies. Brad Fitzpatrick, the Google guy, was the creator of LiveJournal and is also involved with OpenID and Google’s OpenSocial effort. The Facebook representative is the guy behind Facebook Platform. Are they just joining as window dressing? I suppose it’s possible, but I doubt it.

One more point while I’m writing about data portability. Like many others, I’ve written about this — and the Scoble affair — as a case of who “owns” the data. Ed “Freedom to Tinker” Felten makes a good point in this post, which is that no one actually “owns” this data in any real sense. It’s shared by people with companies, who often share it with other companies through APIs and so on. I think Ed’s point is that it isn’t really helpful (and could actually be dangerous) to think about it as “owning” that data.

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About mathewi

I'm the chief digital writer at the Columbia Journalism Review in New York, and a former writer for Fortune magazine and the Globe and Mail newspaper.

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