Thoughts on Open Source, Open Standards, and Online Advertising : Data Sportability Pt 1


This is the first part of a series that I have been working on for a few weeks. The current combined text is 6,000 words – so I’m releasing it in sections.

Apologies to those who have been expecting this sooner — I originally wrote this in early/mid May, but have been busy with business too much to work on editing.


I’ve been using a new term when I talk to people of the internets: Data Sportability. I use it to describe how sporty and flashy ‘data portability’ is, and how that flashiness and sportiness is the true essence of this new ‘movement’ (note: I mean the general movement of data portabality, not the Data Portability working group.

The utopian pitcure of interconnected networks… with data sharing, integration and portability abound is indeed something beautiful — but its just a veneer. Beneath the surface, or more aptly ‘under the hood’, it’s a vicious fight over who has the fastest car, the biggest engine, the latest fuel-injected cooling systems… you get the idea.

Like most services on the internet, Data Sportability isn’t about the end user, it’s about the big networks and service providers… and who has the coolest car.

I’m hoping it picks up, so people other than my friends know what I’m talking about.

Interested? Read on!

Too hot to handle

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, “Data Portability” is hottest thing to hit the internet since the Paris Hilton sex tape… and as we all know in Paris’ own words, “That’s Hott!”. Also very much like Ms Hilton, portability is nice and pretty on the outside, but deeply troubled on the inside.

Here’s a quick history lesson-

Two years ago, the internet was a pretty different place than it is today. There were only a handful of major social networks, and most people ( users, pundits, experts ) looked at minor networks, niche ones (example: CafeMom), and social applications (example: LastFM, Flickr) with utter contempt. The major networks were also doing everything in their power to ‘lock’ users down into their systems — completing blocking images/videos/widgets etc from appearing on user pages whenever a service like YouTube or PhotoBucket had a popularity spike.

Thanks to technical innovations that lowered the barriers to entry, and whitelabel services like Ning and KickApps, everyone and their mother has a social network of their own today.

To maintain the loyalty of their userbases in then tens of millions, all the major players are quickly adapting with standards, platforms, and press releases touting how ‘open’ they are. Companies that recently charged users through subscription models to access their walled gardens are suddennly embracing openness, and pushing for new paradigms in the industry. And the pundits and network evangelists… they simply *love* talking about integration, open standards, and data portability ( as either the base concept or the new standards group ‘’ ) — but that only raises the obvious question: why have so many groups gone a complete 180° turn?

The popular response ( aka: the public relations soundbite ) is that the networks are now proudly putting their users first; that we’ve all grown together, learned from our mistakes, and the old marketing department heads / decision makers have been replaced with new evangelists… embracing open standards and cooperation; Rainbows are everywhere and unicorns have magically appeared, frolicking in the streets.

Kool-Aid seems to be the most popular drink around.

It’s all about the benjamins

Let’s be real for a second- the social internet isn’t about connecting people, it’s about monetizing their experience. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or stupid.

Once upon a time (or just nine months ago), Social Networks weren’t all that different from cellphone carriers in the way they operated — they locked you into a contract/network, made it a pain-in-the-ass to communicate with people on other networks, and basically held you hostage to not leave. If you manage to finally figure a way out of their maze, they magically offer you every single premium imaginable to stay.

A few years ago US the cellphone industry got regulated – users could finally port their phone number from one carrier to another. Citizens embraced this as finally seeing progress… but they didn’t realize it was at the expense of some shady stuff behind the scenes thanks to line items and back-room deals from industry lobbyists. After years of resistance the networks didn’t actually ‘cave’ in… they knew they eventually *had* to give in, so they figured out ways to handle it on their terms — protecting their end interests.

Data portability is pretty much the same, perhaps a bit more duplicitous… as a ton of extremely corporate interests are neatly packaged in a pretty little user friendly PR campaign. Data portability isn’t about empowering a user, or promoting open source and open standards — it’s about data mining, user tracking, and advertising efficiency.

I know because I’ve been there, I’ve done that; I helped write the playbook. My company FindMeOn was one of the first out of the gates selling the ‘Data Portability’ illusion — and over the past 9 months, every single big tech firm has gone through the exact same growing pains and learnings curves we did: they’ve released the same exact technologies, in roughly the same orders, even using roughly the same names.

So I’m going to talk about what FindMeOn was really up to all along, and explain what the new players in this arena are really doing — it’s anything but the grand illusion of user control. In the process I’ll predict the next few developments from bigtech, dispel some illusions, and recontextualize this faux openness into what it really is – internet marketing, plain and simple.

Some may point out dozens of pundits and developers who have only the best intentions. To that I say: sure they are — but look who pays their bills and is funding their research, it’s for a reason!

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