What the Myspace Announcement Really Means

Yesterday Myspace made a massive announcement: they would embrace data portability and launch the “Data Availability” initiative. The goal of the initiative is to provide users with a single control panel where they can control what sites have access to specific data within their profile. This is something that data portability evangelists have been asking for, for the past couple years. I’ve decided to break out the pros and cons and various aspects of what it means to different groups.

Pros
This is a strategic product which pushes forward the movement to true data portability. It provides users with a singular control panel to access their social profiles across the entire web. It puts competing sites in a position in which they now must continue to open up their data. It continues the momentum which we saw with the announcement of the Data Portability workgroup, potentially making 2008 the year of Data Portability.

Cons
Myspace owns my data, not me. I should be able to control all of my data from an application absent of third party intervention. It requires other sites to support new standards and doesn’t fit within the existing construct. This is still nothing more than a screenshot and a formal announcement; Myspace announced their platform would be ready months before it actually was. Finally, this is not a single login solution like OpenID and there is currently no support for OpenID.

For Users
So what does this mean for users? Well users now get a single control panel for their social existence on the web. This makes it easier to control who has access to my data and what data they have access to. I now can have an easy way to remember all of the sites that I have released my profile data to.

For Facebook
What does this mean for Facebook? I can sum it up in one word: ouch! Not only has Myspace launched a competing platform but they have just announced their willingness to out open Facebook. It also could potentially spell the destruction of internal applications which reside within the “Facebook chrome”. If I can view a list of all applications/websites that support this new standard provided by Myspace, isn’t that just as good as an internal application directory?

So what will Facebook’s response be? They are going to have to open up and open up quick. If Myspace’s new standard gains any sort of traction, they could become the dominant player in managing a centralized location of user profile data. This is awesome because it is a wake up call for Facebook and it is going to prevent any sort of delay in the continued data portability movement. Facebook is now on the defensive and they are going to have to come back swinging.

My prediction? Look for an announcement in the next 4 weeks in which Facebook will announce the launch of a similar standard.

For Application Developers
The social application industry changes every 6 weeks to be honest. This is just another consideration for these developers. For now this announcement should only be considered hype. Until the new social control panel launches, developers should continue as though this announcement never took place. Once this standard is launched applications no longer theoretically need to exist within a social networking site.

Instead, applications can be extended to their own stand alone applications or external websites. As i wrote yesterday afternoon, it is the invisible social network concept that Charlene Li has been talking about for months. This is great in theory but as of now it is still just theory.

For Open Standards
Currently the only open standard that Myspace is embracing is oAuth, which is “an open protocol to allow secure API authentication in a simple and standard method from desktop and web applications.” In other words it enables external applications to communicate securely. Unfortunately they won’t be supporting OpenID for now which means while you can transport profile data, you won’t be able to use a single login.

True open standard evangelists tend to be highly cynical about corporate intentions with “data portability.” Whenever a company says that they are “embracing open standards,” they are really saying that they will enable other sites to access their data and help them extend their control on data beyond their own website. For open standards this is a step in the right direction but I still don’t own my data, Myspace does.

Word of Caution
Just because Myspace says they are doing something doesn’t mean they are. All they provided as proof of existence was one screenshot that was published on Techcrunch. Last time Myspace announced their platform at the Web 2.0 Summit, it took them months to actually deliver a functional platform. That platform still has its problems and for Myspace to suddenly launch a robust data portability standard is a little more than spectacular.

The cynic in me says that this could have been an announcement to try to force Facebook to do something that they don’t need to do right away. It will require Facebook to rapidly reallocate their resources (if they weren’t already working on this type of project) and would hopefully slow their momentum, if Myspace is lucky.

No matter how realistic it is for this new Data Availability initiative to launch within weeks, Myspace has just made a stand and it is a historic one in the world of Data Portability. This announcement also highlights how fragile the world of social applications has become. Let’s be honest, why would I put my app within Facebook or Myspace when I can now put it on my own site?