It’s the relationships, stupid

Sure, it’s interesting and noteworthy that a gaggle of the top social media companies has joined the DataPortability working group. Heck, if a group that includes key folks from Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, SixApart, Flickr and Twitter announced what they ate for lunch, I’d be happy to learn what was on the menu. But the truth is, this just ain’t as important as people think it is.

So people get to drag friend data from service to service–so what?  Even if all of the social networking services give up their data, they still keep control of the “social graphs” (the complex relationship networks people form).  And as long as social graphs remain the property of individual services, data portability won’t be worth much.

As Forrester Research’s Charlene Li cogently notes, it seems likely that for the forseeable future, social graphs will stay embedded in individual services. The real nirvana, an “open social graph”–a schema which integrates the relationship people have across the entire sprawling social Web– is at best a very long-term prospect.

Perhaps that’s why MySpace hasn’t come to the data portability party. While it has little to lose by letting users share basic “friend” data, execs may (rightfully) be afraid that they’re going to be pressured to give up one of ther most valuable assets–millions of relationship maps that users value highly.

You know, as I reflect on this, I’m not surprised that these companies don’t want to give relationship maps over without a struggle. Hey, marketers reading this…what would you rather pitch to, a) a e-mail or direct mail list of people with a certain title (VP of Purchasing) or b) the same names, plus a map to the relationships between those VPs, their existing suppliers, their direct reports, their colleagues from prior companies and their service providers?  The mind boggles.

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