Dear Hulu, I told you so.

Dear Hulu,

I told you so.

A few weeks ago you blocked Boxee.

I said in my article [Hulu’s dumbest move: blocking Boxee](

> See, internet people are smart and savvy. It won’t be long until someone makes a plugin / patch / version of Boxee that identifies itself as Safari or Internet Explorer or something else — re-enabling the ability for users everywhere to revel in streaming video.

Guess what. They did. And it wasn’t even hard.

Boxee now shows Hulu content through Hulu’s own RSS feeds.

So take this warning…

If you’re lucky, and they’re still identifying themselves as Boxee devices — don’t block them. Embrace them.

Don’t follow the advice of your content producers — educate them. Help them understand new media.

Tell them:

> Someone is sitting back on a couch. there are probably multiple people watching. this is probably on a big screen. we can charge 5x the CPM for this display.

And have a business that works not only for you, but your consumers and corporate partners alike.

You’ve been given a second chance — don’t miss it.

Hulu's dumbest move: blocking boxee

Starting this week, Hulu will block the boxee client from its streams.

The heads of both Hulu and Boxee addressed it on their corporate blogs, calling it unfortunate
[Boxee Posting](
[Hulu Posting](

The summary is very simple. Hulu’s content providers got mad to learn that people were watching Hulu on TV sets, not on computers. TV ads & Neilsen metrics provide for more income than online view ( online viewing was designed as a way to make extra cash, not make big $$ and cover production costs ) — and the content producers don’t want to steal people away from network viewing. They want to get people to watch ads on their couches in groups, on the big screen, where revenue is better and ROI/efficacy is higher.

The situation is obviously unfortunate to boxee & other set-top-device/media-center users… but also a huge setback for Hulu.

Let’s be clear about this – Hulu didn’t want to do this. They make money every time someone watches a video on their site – whether its Boxee or a PC. They don’t care how people watch the content they distribute. It’s the content providers that forced this action.

But in caving in to their providers, Hulu became responsible for the largest mistake they will have made.

See, internet people are smart and savvy. It won’t be long until someone makes a plugin / patch / version of Boxee that identifies itself as Safari or Internet Explorer or something else — re-enabling the ability for users everywhere to revel in streaming video.

And once people do that, those media devices are identifying themselves as not-boxee. Those devices are saying “Oh, hey there. look at us, see, we’re NOT connected to a TV, we’re just a computer”.

And those devices aren’t saying “Yes! we’re a boxee device! Someone is sitting back on a couch. there are probably multiple people watching. this is probably on a big screen. you can charge 5x the CPM for this display.”

And that is what Hulu – and the brain-dead shortsighted content producers – lost. Boxee and other set-top devices are how people will consume media in the future. It’s happening already. The rise of their popularity combined with the costs of cable in a flailing economy have many people dropping subscription services for broadcast networks and online viewing.

So in short, Hulu shot itself in the foot.

Boxxee users will get hulu content again, surreptitiously, but Hulu will only be making standard CPM rates for it — and losing out on a chance to charge for premium CPMs.

By the time Hulu can make the content providers wake up, far too many projects will be made to liberate video onto set-top devices — and they’ll start spending all of their money on bribing projects to identify themselves as set-top devices , or lawyers to threaten and sue developers. ( and that is successfully or not, as they’re spending money and not winning anything)

So congratulations Big Media, you’re an idiot. Again. Next time technology & culture shifts, try embracing it and designing new revenue streams on it — not try to quash it and live in the past.

Exploring Affiliate Marketing

A few of the startups I’m working with are going the Affiliate Marketing route to create new revenue streams.

As an experiment, I’ve decided to try and integrate that on my blog as well.

People who read me tend to have money and like shiny things – so why not put a big ‘BUY ME NOW!’ button here? Just to the right…

Congrats to the folks who guessed the FoxNews twitter password

If you haven’t seen it already, do a websearch…

earlier today the FoxNews twitter feed had this gem:

> Breaking: Bill O Riley is gay

The second I heard it , I was suspect… if FoxNews were in any way involved with this story, they’d be burying it, not breaking it.

But folks who guessed the Twitter password (btw: I’d love to know how they did it) made 2 giveaway mistakes

1. They misspelled “O’Reilly” as “O Riley”. Really. That was just sad.
2. They sent the update from the twitter website; every other FoxNews tweet was sent via the Perl Net::Twitter library. my guess is that its just a cronjob on their server that parses and pushes their RSS feed, or a hook into their publishing system that pushes to twitter on publish.

It would have been nicer if the password guessers had a bit more style.

Your Social Media Campaign is… Stupid.

Dare I say it? You betcha — your Social Media Campaign is… Stupid.

Two years ago Brands and Advertisers weren’t just cautious of social media, they were apprehensive and distrustful.

In as quick of a 180° change as Social Networks opened last summer, marketing interests have rushed to embrace social media… albeit with overwhelmingly pointless campaigns.

Everyone feels they need to have a Facebook App, a MySpace page, a Twitter campaign… the list goes on…

The marketing budgets spent on these endeavors are no laughing matter, and neither are the talents hired — with some of the best and brightest production shops, digital agencies, and creatives backing the efforts.

So what is going wrong?

Why are Facebook apps turning into ( as Advertising Age proclaims ) brand graveyards ? Why are Twitter campaigns failing , when there are so many success stories out there? Why are you all alone, because will no one be your friend on MySpace?

The problem is simple — bad strategy.

In a rush to homestead on Social Media properties, everyone has gone out and hired “Social Media Consultants” — ‘experts’ who overwhelmingly have little to no background in advertising or digital media , they just ‘get’ social media and are avid networkers. These are people who know little about ROI or Branding, instead measuring their success by the size of their contracts.

My friend Phil Gillman has been talking recently about how Advertising has failed online because marketers have been trying to keep too unified a messaging across media – and not tailoring online activity to the interactive marketplace. He’s right – a lot of issue is that television campaigns won’t work online.

But I say this goes a step further — not every online medium is the same. Facebook and MySpace have vastly different cultures — as do all the niche social networks. You wouldn’t run the same mix on NBC, BET and Univision — so why run the same social media campaigns across networks?

Some online projects can be ‘insanely viral’ — others are not. My friends The Barbarian Group are often lauded with their success with the Subservient Chicken campaign for Burger King — and they should be, it reached across demographics with equal appeal. But where is the appeal to Facebook or MySpace users for displaying the latest news from The Wall Street journal on their page? That’s not social media strategy, that’s social media stupidity.

When my company FindMeOn was working with non-profit and political groups to streamline our social network mapping technology, we ran into the same conversation during every meeting — clients wanted to run the same online campaign on 15 different networks. We always gave the same answer — and every time I consult I still give this same stock answer:

– I understand your position, it’s a bad one.
– I’d be glad to take your money and implement that – or you can just give me money for nothing in return, because you’re not going to get any ROI off of this
– Every social network and medium is different — you need to leverage your brand against them

The strategies I always recommend is nothing more than common sense:

– Discover your core audience on each network, and communicate with them. Facebook and MySpace users are not the same, and will not react to the same messaging.
– The key is in communication — you need a two-way brand relationship.
– By building up users across networks, you can leverage their homesteads in each network and reach more people.

Users want to feel like they’re interacting with your brand. Syndicating content or duplicating campaigns across social networks by merely find/replacing logos and names does nothing but cheapen their experience.

Marketers need to be critical of themselves and their campaigns – no one seems to ask “If I’m a common user, why would I download/use/install this?” We don’t live in a field of dreams — ‘If we build it , they will come’ is nothing more than foolish optimism.

Which brings me to my case in point – Twitter. I haven’t read an issue of “Advertising Age” in months that doesn’t have at least 3 articles on the now-ubiquitous service. If someone isn’t already using Twitter for brand reinforcement and advertising, they’re openly talking about their plans to. There’s even a few pay-to-post brand advertising networks coming out on it.

I like using Twitter as an example, because it’s the perfect illustration of who “gets it”, and who doesn’t in social media — it also best-illustrates the key points in Social Media marketing.

Many people gauge the effectiveness of a Twitter account based on the number of ‘followers’ — assuming someone with 50-500 followers is not as effective as someone with 500-5,000. This is a dangerously wrong assumption — and one built on fundamental misunderstandings of both Social Media and basic marketing skills. The success of your brand in Social Media depends on one thing and one thing alone — engagement.

Twitter is not a syndication platform — it is not a newsletter, a RSS feed, or a subscription service. It’s a platform for engagement.

While the most popular Twitter brands have average 20,000 followers ( i.e.: Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and Gary Vaynerchuck of WineLibrary ), their ROI has never been exhibited by their quantity, but instead their quality. The success of these Social Media campaigns lie in their use of bi-directional customer engagement — with the brands not only broadcasting information, but interacting with consumers on a personal level. To reinforce this point, I often like to remind people “It’s SOCIAL, stupid.”.

FindMeOn always advices non-profits and organizations to not create personal/closed whitelabel networks, but build open social networks that leverage their fans’ existing accounts.

One of the 2008 Presidential campaigns *really* wanted us to build them a closed network. Our response? “That’s a bad idea. Why would you want to have a bunch of your fans feeding off each other? They need to be talking out in the open – you need to use them as your advocates.”

Instead of bringing people together behind closed doors, your online property should be a gathering place , a common hub or ‘linkage’ for your followers across websites and networks. For example: if you leverage Flickr or MySpace for photo sharing, instead of building your own photo gallery, their photographs appear across sites. You gain brand positioning within their activity streams and, consequently, gain a chance to convert more followers. This is the social media equivalent of “Collateral damage” – we call it “Collateral Branding”.

Twitter exemplifies Collateral Branding — and Social Media Marketing best-practices — because of how it’s engagement model works.

Let’s take the example of someone with 5000 followers: if all they do is broadcast a bit of information every few hours, all they really have is 5000 passive listeners. That’s nothing to really boast about. Really, what good does it do to your brand to blanket a few thousand people with random news blasts? This is the social equivalent of opt-in spam, and can leave consumers disaffected or damaged.

Now let’s look at a Twitter brand with 500 followers, and characterize them as someone who actively engages with their fans. That means using the network and tailored communication to open a dialogue with users – not just broadcasting to them, but fostering a conversation. This doesn’t just build a stronger, more positive connection with the brand, but has the potential to engage more users in new, unique, and positive ways. While their messaging may only be directed at 500 people, every user-generated message addressed @them shows up on the timelines of those originators’ followers. If the brand receives 50 messages from unique followers each day, and those users each average 100 followers themselves, their realized Social Marketing Imprint is the sum of their outbound messaging ( 500 unique users ) + their inbound messaging ( 50 users * 100 followers = 5000 potentially unique users ).

So in this example, our brand with 500 followers is not only fostering a better brand connection and reinforcement with its consumer base, but is actually creating a slightly larger marketing imprint. Who woulda’ guessed?

Social Media is still a young concept for marketing, but it can be extremely powerful when done right. Don’t just build apps and broadcast messages, hoping people will install them. Actually think about what you’re building, why you’re building it, and what the ROI will be. Having a Facebook app or Twitter page is not ROI – using them to create and foster brand loyalty and sales is. If you’re a brand or advertiser, you shouldn’t question Social Media — online advertising and social media has a proven track record; you simply need to question your strategy and show a little common sense.

Facebook's Snowball Wars – Out of Control

** Updates below **

People keep throwing snowballs at me on Facebook. I’m pissed.

it seems that no matter how many times I block this application, it comes back with a new name. It’s up to 4 now.

The developers behind this, whomever they are, seem to be migrating people across versions with subtle trickery — do an action on one version, and it posts to another version of the app. Facebook asks for a new auth, but the names are confusingly similar – leading most people to think its the same application and jsut a bug.

Here’s a picture of my blocked applications setting right now.


(ice) Snowball Wars
id = 8476307935

(cold) Snowball Wars
id = 4902358249

(new) Snowball Wars
disappeared / id unavailable ( but it is unique in my blocks list )

(frost) Snowball Wars
disappeared / id unavailable ( but it is unique in my blocks list )

I wonder what the point of the developers are — to get around the constant blocking that purely annoying applications like this create ? Are they just trying to pump up ad sales? Or is this some method to get as many people to ‘add’ an application, so the id + subscriber base can be sold to another company for rebranding/utilzation as a new app (believe it or not, a lot of that goes on).

I don’t know who’s behind these apps, but Facebook and the Advertisers/Ad Networks should be ashamed of themselves.

It’s the responsibility of Facebook to keep people like this who abuse Social Media platforms in check. The failure to do so not only lessens the utility of their platform, but harms their own brand image and affinity.

More importantly , it’s the responsibility of Ad Networks to maintain brand integrity across channels. I’m truly sorry for all of the brands and advertisers who have placed ads with networks displaying on these applications — I can’t fathom the damage done to the advertising brands’ image.

** Updated **
After talking with friends, it appears that just by accessing the application, ‘Snowballs’ are ‘thrown’ at people in your friends list through no opt-in of your own.

I think the developers are using a mixture of cross-application-linking with non-opt-in actions to circumvent the Facebook API throttles on publishing invitations and notifications.

Based on this behavior, I would recommend that people NOT grant any access to a ‘snowball’ application out of concern for personal privacy and the ability to publish activity through a Facebook account.

Thoughts on Open Source, Open Standards, and Online Advertising : Data Sportability Pt 2

In 2005 I started FindMeOn after noticing some serious flaws in the use of OpenID. The base of the system grew out of the identity & publisher syndication components of a music website I had been working on with friends for a few years. When the music project went on hiatus, I decided to flesh out the identity system into its own entity. I wanted FindMeOn to be a full-fledged standalone / open source project to allow for secure online identity management/syndication because I truly cared about that, and no one else did at the time. On the flip side, years in marketing taught me the marketing value of information identity could deliver — so the system was designed to create a revenue model that gives brands & ad agencies better insight to their consumer distribution across networks.

From late 2005 to mid 2006 I met with dozens of agency execs, online experts and VC investors to vett my concept, and I learned my monetization scheme wasn’t enough — everyone required a higher monetization potential from it. By April 2006 the answer was clear: FindMeOn was not just going to offer cross-site information for dispersion intel, but for social demographics and online advertising… selling targeted advertising or media planning services.

I spent the next few months learning how the entrepreneur in me could reconcile open source beliefs with unadulterated american capitalism.

Maybe I’m wrong, won’t you tell me if I’m coming on too strong

With this in mind, I offer the following industry commentary. Keep in mind that this is pure conjecture from research and analysis; I can offer this only as insight not fact — but I am certain that it is accurate.

As I mentioned in my followup to DataPortability Podcast #5, The Facebook management team was absolutely brilliant in concepting their API strategy. I will easily credit them with getting the whole portability thing rolling by releasing their API – which set the precedent of a platform API that users and developers would adopt en-masse. It was working so well, that Facebook was gaining tons of user activity within-site, and gaining new developers to build applications FOR them. Facebook was also becoming a much bigger threat to their competitors than previously thought…

MySpace and the other major social networks suddenly had an entirely new level to compete on. While these other networks were constantly shifting between friend & foe with third party developers ( blocking their widgets, announcing partnership deals, repeat ), Facebook – who previously kept all widgets off their network – suddenly had a dedicated & robust *platform* dedicated to widget/app developers that was the darling of the internet community. Facebook was suddenly making developers happy, users happy, and — most threatening of all — showing a giant head start in this new ‘economy’ by seting the bar.

Lurking in the background was a stealthy figure who was realizing they would soon need to compete against Facebook: google. Why? Well, the search/advertising giant wasn’t worried so much about Facebook as a Social Media competitor, but what intelligence gleaned from Social Media could power — online advertising.

Here are some neat facts about the social media advertising market in the US in the Summer of 2007.

– Social Media advertising is the largest growing segment of internet advertising — as its the largest growing segment of the internet ).

– The 2008 projections for social media ad spends are around 800MM; the 2009 projections are 1300MM; and 1900MM in 2010.

– Social Media is probably the worst performing sector of online advertising. As an illustrative figure: its responsible for 90% of impressions, but only 10% of revenue.

A well optimized online publisher, like the New York Times, commands hefty eCPMs ( effective costs per 1000 ad impressions ) – upwards of $20; with a rumored $85 eCPM page monetization. MySpace is somewhere between .10¢ eCPM for a generic buy to $2.00 for an ultra optimized query — not very impressive.

Facebook has long been one of the best monetized social networks, consistently demanding eCPMs in the $1.50 to $8 range. A rumor was circulating in the Summer of 2007 that the Palo Alto firm was developing an off-site advertising network to display ads across the internet based on cookied data off their users. This is what Google was scared of.

As more population demographics adopt the Facebook platform, this rumored ad system increasingly jeopardized Google’s position as the internets premier ad network. Even more troubling, Google knew that Facebook had the talent and power to develop this competition — they weren’t just a large firm, but recruiting the new employees Google wanted first, and even hiring key staff members away from Mountain View.

There Ain’t No Second Chance Against The Thing With Forty Eyes

Google and MySpace had to respond – and act fast. So they come up with a daring little plan: they teamed up together to sketch out a competing platform, roped in a couple of other networks who were threatened by the burgeoning Facebook, and wanted to beat them with sheer numbers. Since Facebook had a ‘closed’ platform, Google decided to ‘open’ things up to foster more adoption with tons of “open standards” and “open source” — even calling their system ‘OpenSocial’. Through the use of the word “Open” everywhere, and multi-network capabilities, the new alliance of ‘once-enemies , now friends’ gathered against the mighty Facebook would hopefully woo more developers to the ‘OpenSocial’ market — stagnating Facebook’s platform growth.

As a quick side note, Google’s OpenSocial project kind of sounds like a whole lot like FindMeOn’s “Open SN (Open Social Network)” in both function and name. One would think their army of patent and trademark lawyers would have ‘googled’ their own product ideas for clearance…

Since everyone was trading punches over being more open and more awesome than the other guy, Facebook quickly had an equally brilliant reply — they subsidized free hosting through a partnership program with Sun and Joyent, started giving out cash grants to spur development, and their backing investors started a new VC fund focused solely on Facebook applications. Take that! said Facebook as a sea of developers eagerly built products for their platform.

You’ve got to roll with the punches to get to whats real

Over the next four months, a plethora of large scale announcements would come from Google and Facebook as new players jumped into the fray.

Google decided to make OpenSocial a non-profit venture to bolster PR, even pulling in Yahoo to the relaunched initiative; the announcement was met by the praise of many tech-pundits, who talked about how wonderful the concept of a non-profit was. Predictably, everyone likened the initiative to civic minded non-profits – and none suggested the more relevant correlation: non-profit registered industry lobby fronts like the ‘National Smokers Alliance’ or ‘Global Climate Council’ that pipe tobacco and oil dollars into misleading consumer campaigns. Who can forget 2007’s hit webformercial “Carbon Dioxide: Some call it pollution, we call it Life”.

Nothing short of a ‘pissing match’ started between the large tech giants. In an almost round-robin fashion, each company would announce a new product that somehow ‘outdoes’ the last announcement from a competitor. Facebook expanded privacy controls, Google announced a ‘Social Graph API’, Microsoft jumped in with their ‘Windows Live API’, MySpace teamed with Yahoo and eBay to do ‘Data Availability’. Every other week, a new batch of PR announcements and partnerships are released — all accompanied by a hastily created set of documents, big-name backers, and incorporating one or more open standards while creating a few of their own.

These initiatives have been so hasilty and half-assed designed, that I wouldn’t be surprised if we soon learn that half of these products came solely out of the marketing departments, and the technology teams never saw anything until after a press announcement.

Today, *everyone* has an Open Standard and an Open Platform — myself included — which begs the obvious question: what good are open standards and platforms, if everyone has a different one? And are things really open when their main purpose is to further a proprietary system?

Perhaps more importantly – how many of the tech giants have collaborated with third-party developers to define these new Open platforms?

The industry’s modus operandi seems to be

1. BigTech decides what to open up and how
2. BigTech invites top widget makers / networks to be launch partners
3. Third party developers are then told “So this is how you’ll use it. Welcome to the new status quo. Happier?”.

Now I could be wrong — I’m three thousand miles removed from the SF bubble where all the ‘Open’ decisions are made — but I’ve yet to hear of any interactive agencies, dev shops, or brands who build/finance most of the ‘widget’ development being included in these conversations. I’ve been meeting with them non-stop to try and rectify that — and as of yet, no one I’ve met has even been polled by a large ‘platform’ for their input.

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!

Data Sportability

It’s nice to see everyone joining the portability and open standards bandwagon, and with such breakneck speed. It’s also great to see a complete 180° turn for many people involved — it wasn’t too long ago that many of the newly outspoken proponents of these concepts were the ones maintaining and enforcing the walled gardens of social media with an iron fist, holding users and third party services hostage at their leisure.

All the traction this movement has been gaining has made it very easy to get excited — quite a lot has happened in the last few months, and people are often still lauding some open technology just as its successor or complement is released. It can be quite difficult to keep up with, and amidst all this celebration a few important concepts have been lost or sidelined. I think we’ve come to a point where we all need to slow down for a moment and take a good look at the recent technologies and instead of blindly celebrating them, start asking some tough questions: like what are the implications of this, and why are they being created so quickly in the first place?

If you chat with industry pundits, read the blogs, even open up a major newspaper, you’ll quickly notice that data portability is all the rage (the general concept, not the ‘DataPortabilty’ working group). People love talking about the new efforts in interconnectedness on the internet — the ability to meld content and relationships across social media outlets, and the positive strides the industry is making. If you talk to a product manager or blogger ‘in the scene’ for a few minutes minutes, you’ll note how similarly they mimic an eleventeen year old girl talking about puppies, ponies and rainbows ( and ice cream! and unicorns! and rainbow sprinkles! oh my!).

Looking beyond the gloss of portability, there is a much more pervasive méme to the industry — the new marketing culture driving the open initiatives, Data Sportability. Before people can even hash out what products really are, we see fancy marketing jargon around corporate initiatives, an endless array of shiny new products and services launched one-after-another, and a figurative pissing contest between large technology companies trying to ‘outdo’ one another in terms of portability options and open standards. While data portability might be about getting people to join the bandwagon… Data Sportability is everyone trying to have the fanciest and flashiest wagon in the train, with hopes people will flock to it more so they can go off in their own direction.

When people can step back from the celebrations of technology, it is painfully clear that the new push for open data initiatives are not so open, well intentioned, or in many cases not even well thought out. I think it’s about time we put an end to Data Sportability and end this trend before any real damage is done.

Over the next few days I’ll be releasing a series of articles based on dispelling Data Sportability, using my company FindMeOn as the context. In 2006 we released and ‘Open Social Network’- a consumer site and set of open standards promising secure, privacy minded social network integration… which was really just a testbed for our ‘next generation’ social media advertising platform. In late 2007, Groups like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft started releasing similar products, under similar names, and going through all the same ‘realizations’ and growth spurts as our products.

Common Sense Truths Behind Portability

A preview.

The Open Movement is a Shell Game
Open Source and Open Standards are absolutely meaningless when their point is to sell in proprietary platforms and services. Google, Facebook, Windows, MySpace, etc. are all promoting *their* platformed versions of portability. This isn’t a goodwill effort, this is an arms race for technology, users, and a market leadership position. Corporations are also very much focused on what THEY get out of being open — not end users; they’ve done a 180° on portability for a reason, they figured out how to monetize it.

Beware the Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
Being backed by, or creating, a non-profit is nothing more than a PR stunt. Lobbyists have been doing this for yers to mislead consumers on the behalf of the Tobacco and Oil industries. Being a non-profit doesn’t mean that you’re searching for the cure to cancer, or developing cross-platform software under the MIT license — it just means that your organization *as the organization* is not focused on creating corporate profits for itself. Groups like “OpenSocial Foundation” are industry associations of large social media stakeholders and advertisers – they’re not coming together to save children, they’re coming together to optimize their businesses.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions
A lot of portability people mean well – but its important to view these innovations as the struggle they are — corporations are looking to monetize, technologists are looking to quickly adopt and push forward with every new innovation. When the dust settles and the novelty begins to wear off, a mess is often left behind. In politics, people talk about ‘inside the beltway’ — a disconnect between the political system and the people it represents, created by secluded and self-reinforcing culture of its members. Technology is the same way — technologists have the mindset of early adopters – and people who try to live their lives outwardly across all mediums; the average internet user is vastly different.

I recently got into a heated argument on the DataPortability group’s mailing list, when I was incensed by the lack of discussion covering user privacy ramifications of OpenID adoption — especially in a so-called ‘what could go wrong?’ panel discussion that was scheduled. From a consumer and corporate perspective, I am *deeply* troubled by the conflation of online account information and relationships hastily integrated systems promote.

Most people failed see any issue where a large one exists; a small subset of people saw the issue and replied something to the extent of ‘well some of us do care enough, and have implemented privacy constraints in our software’. My response: why is this not the default? why isn’t everyone adhering? why am I the only one questioning this?

More than meets the eye
People are pushing data portability for a reason – monetizing openness. The monetary layer in data portability isn’t in being an open service, or providing a platform service… it’s in analyzing and applying cross-network user intelligence for internet advertising. Open platforms aren’t about providing a service to users, they’re about making money off of users.

They’re also about creating new commerce-driven standards. While MySpace, Google, Facebook are big names in Social Media, they’re the groups behind the world’s most powerful networks – not the people interacting with APIs and building new social media projects. While its nice to see these groups offering some ‘standards’ for interaction, they’re also saying “ok, but you have to play by our rules now!”. How different would these Open Standards look like if they were mandated by the widget developers, social media startups, or ad companies / corporate brands who are constantly building new online media projects? These ‘standards’ are concepts and hooks defined by benevolent dictators — not by the people who make applications.