Aggregating social network data

* Social networking sites are like e-mail

There was an interesting controversy last week involving Facebook and Plaxo. Robert Scoble was using a script in an unreleased feature of Plaxo Pulse that allowed him to collect names, addresses and birthdays from his Facebook account. Facebook automatically disabled his account based on the significant activity it detected and because running these types of scripts violates Facebook’s terms of service. However, shortly after the automatic disabling of his account, Mr. Scoble's access to Facebook was reinstated.

Clearly, Facebook was right to do what it did – the script probably appeared to be scraping off member information like a spammer would, and so the automatic disabling of Mr. Scoble’s account was a justified security measure. However, this raises the larger question about the future of social networking and the ability for users to share information across their various accounts. For example, I use Facebook LinkedIn, Plaxo and other such sites and I would definitely like to have a single interface that could share all of this information, import it into my master address book and link activities and comments across all of the sites.

Today, most social networking sites are like e-mail was in the early 1990s and like instant messaging was in the pre-federation days – islands of useful content that don’t talk to one another whose operators are hesitant to share data freely. That’s understandable, since sharing data freely can lead to a loss of key distinctives between different offerings, potential loss of revenue, reduced company value and the like. That said, the market will force vendors of these offerings to change. There will have to be sharing of user information in order for users to realize the maximum value from social networking tools in the larger context of unified communications, Web 2.0 and other communication technologies. Only when and how that will happen remains to be seen.

I’d like to get your comments on this – please send me an e-mail with your thoughts.

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