MySpace: We still control your data

by Mathew on May 8, 2008 · 6 comments

I can appreciate that there’s a good reason for all the buzz on Techmeme about MySpace hooking up with Yahoo, eBay and Twitter as part of the Data Portability project. Data portability and open standards are a great thing, and it’s nice to see some movement on that front after all of the announcements and back-slapping that went on about it last year — followed by very little movement on anyone’s part. But after all the party favours are handed out and everyone’s finished their MySpace punch, it might be worth noting that this “data portability” initiative still keeps the power very much in MySpace’s hands.

It’s true that the site has agreed to open up its API and allow other providers such as Yahoo and Twitter to extract user data with the OAuth standard. But we’re still talking about data that resides on MySpace’s servers and therefore effectively — according to the terms of use agreement that members sign when they register — belongs to the social network. It’s nice that they are letting you use it elsewhere, but as Stacy Higginbotham at GigaOm points out, they still get to choose which services can play, since they have to agree to MySpace’s terms of service in order to get access to the API. And what if something happens and your account gets deleted for some reason?

Don’t get me wrong — it’s good that MySpace is opening up. And I think it’s great that being the first one to adopt any kind of open standard or interoperability seems to be turning into a competitive advantage. But this is very much about MySpace wanting to become the central storage point for peoples’ data, and then doling out whatever information it wants to the services that it wants to play ball with. Even the praise from the Data Portability Project seems rather faint: it says that it hopes MySpace will someday “evolve toward becoming a compliant implementation” of the project’s best practices. I hope so too.

Update:

Ben Metcalfe, who acted as an advisor to MySpace and is also a co-founder of the Data Portability group, has posted a comment here in which he corrects some misunderstandings of mine about the nature of what MySpace is doing. In particular, he says that the launch partners are not getting any kind of special deal, but were only chosen in order to “have someone to test and debug the implementation with and also have the ability to demonstrate the complete value proposition end-to-end.” Thanks for clarifying things, Ben.

  • http://benmetcalfe.com Ben Metcalfe

    Hey Mathew,

    I was disappointed to read your disappointment with the project. I was wondering whether you could elaborate on a couple of your points…

    “after all the party favours are handed out and everyone’s finished their MySpace punch, it might be worth noting that this “data portability” initiative still keeps the power very much in MySpace’s hands.”

    I'm a bit confused by what you mean by this, or to put it another way, how it falls short of your satisfaction. Anyone can consume the data (assuming permission of the user of course), other than being the social network the said user has chosen to use, I'm a little confused as to how 'all the power is in MySpace's hands. The data has to originate and be delegated from somewhere (otherwise how do you control the deletion or alteration of a piece of data?)

    Perhaps you could elaborate a little, or lay out an alternative setup that would allay your concerns as I'm not clear what that looks like?

    “[MySpace] still get to choose which services can play, since they have to agree to MySpace’s terms of service in order to get access to the API.”

    Yes there will be a Ts & Cs… again, I'm not sure what you are suggesting? There be no Ts & Cs? I'm not sure how having no Ts & Cs helps users around making sure their data is being handled in appropriate ways (that's one of the areas where Data Portability is doing fine work). MySpace, as far as I can see, are not choosing who gets to have access, other than yes asking data consumers to agree to terms. I don't think that's a show stopper.

    Again, really interested to hear your thoughts, esp how this could be implemented differently as I'm somewhat unclear what the proposition you are aspiring to looks like.

    (Disclosure: I am a consultant for MySpace on the overall platform project and I am a co-founder of Data Portability)

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Thanks for the comment, Ben.

    Maybe I'm confused about how it works: If anyone can consume the data
    – assuming the permission of the user — then what is the point of
    announcing that Yahoo, eBay, Twitter and so on are part of this deal?
    I assume they're getting something that isn't possible with just the
    regular API. Maybe I'm wrong.

    In any case, I'm not saying this is all bad — far from it. As I said
    in the post, I think it's great that MySpace and other networks are
    opening up their data and allowing it to flow to other services. All I
    was really trying to point out is that this seems primarily designed
    (naturally) to get people to use MySpace for all of their data, and
    allow it to act as a kind of clearinghouse for that data.

    I'd much rather have the data myself and let it flow to wherever I
    want, instead of wherever MySpace wants. But maybe that's just me.

    Anyway, if I've misunderstood something please let me know.

  • http://www.prodigeek.com/ Michael Sherrin

    Just like Verizon's open network, I wonder if this is a lot of hype. I mean, we have Open Social waiting in the sidelines to take over. Anyway, does anyone even use MySpace anymore anyway, aside from all those spammers?

  • http://benmetcalfe.com Ben Metcalfe

    “I assume they're getting something that isn't possible with just the
    regular API. Maybe I'm wrong.”

    Nope, they're not getting anything that won't be publicly available. I think it's becoming obvious this wasn't messaged clear enough, but then I don't write the press releases.

    The only reason for having 'launch partners' is to have someone to test and debug the implementation with and also have the ability to demonstrate the complete value proposition end-to-end (not everyone understands what this is, esp less tech savvy people).

    “All I was really trying to point out is that this seems primarily designed
    (naturally) to get people to use MySpace for all of their data, and
    allow it to act as a kind of clearinghouse for that data.”

    Yeah that's exactly what it is, well at least if the scope of 'all' is social network data. I don't think there's anything wrong with that, it's a reasonable proposition but hopefully will also stimulate other holders of social data to also release their data in interopable formats.

    “I'd much rather have the data myself and let it flow to wherever I
    want, instead of wherever MySpace wants.”

    MySpace won't be deciding where the data goes. That's down to the developers who choose to interop with MySpace and the users who choose to bring their data to the 3rd party.

    “having your own data' is an interesting point – if you don't maintain a website (the kind of demographic of myspace users) then it's very hard to 'own your data' whilst also having it available to be subscribed to elsewhere.

  • http://www.mathewingram.com/work mathewi

    Those are fair points, Ben. If the partners don't get anything extra
    out of the deal, then I admit it's more open than I assumed it to be.
    And you are right that not everyone has the ability (or the desire) to
    control their own data — although they should still have that option.
    Out of curiosity, does the API that MySpace is opening up go both
    ways, so that data can flow into the network as well as out?

  • hiluytri

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