31 Comments

Summary:

Give, give, give — that’s all I (and other social web users) do. But I hardly know what happens to my status updates, comments and photos. I think it’s about time for a personal dashboard to track and view what happens to what we share online.

Give, give, give — that’s all I (and other social web users) do. We share a lot of information about ourselves these days, and we get a lot out of that experience (monetarily speaking, the companies that provide the social web environment get even more). But I hardly know what happens to my status updates, comments and photos. Where do they go, how do they get spread, and who has access to them?

I think it’s about time for a personal dashboard to track and view what happens to what we share online. This would have two primary uses: 1) Privacy: I’d have a better idea of what’s publicly known about myself, and 2) Analytics: Like any content publisher, I’d be interested in checking my stats and trends.

Current Examples

There are already some services that give me glimpses into where my data goes and who sees it:

  • You can get analytics of who your Twitter followers are and how they respond to your content through services like this one from Ad.ly and PeopleBrowsr.
  • Facebook has a somewhat buried privacy feature called “How others see you” that allows you to look at your profile through the eyes (and privacy settings) of any other user.
  • LinkedIn has a “Viewers of this profile also viewed…” feature that can get a little creepy, but shows potential overlaps with people who may be in your line of business.
  • Bit.ly provides analytics for the shortened URLs it creates, so if you share a Bit.ly link you can find out when, where and how people found it.

Privacy

Web users are becoming more aware of privacy issues, though random conspiracy theories may actually be better circulated than legitimate changes, like Facebook’s recent privacy settings change that made much of its users’ content public by default. Still, when we live so much of our lives online it’s hard to know what’s private and whether services are treating our information with the proper respect.

In an emotional and compelling guest post on TechCrunch over the weekend, Angstro founder Rohit Khare complains that social networks and application developers over-complicate and under-deliver on privacy. His conclusion: “Enforce your ToS [terms of service] and obey others’ ToS — or else stop setting unrealistic expectations and just let users have their data back!”

Just knowing where your information goes would help us out of this mess. Eventually, some kind of centralized and independent identity dashboard where you could actually manage, control and delete that information could be the next step.

Analytics

In some ways, this idea would be an evolution of the ego search. Today we look at how many web pages display our name, and how high we rank on Google. Tomorrow, we could look back at everything we’ve emitted to the web, and where it’s traveled. It would be even neater if this hypothetical dashboard functioned like the Internet Archive, so we could get a time capsule about what was known about us online at any one time.

I ran some of these ideas by open web advocate Chris Messina, who compared them to a “digital food chain” in the manner of the whimsical and informative annual reports put together by Daytum founder Nicholas Feltron. Messina commented via email,

How you get to that place, though, well, that’d require a lot more transparency into where data goes, where it comes from, and having some kind of omniscient player standing in the ether and able to track all this stuff. Without owning the stack yourself, I’m not sure the privacy gods would allow such a system to exist.

Messina suggested that if this were to work, users could eventually even sell insights about their personal data to advertisers. But that’s a whole new level, where people’s motivations for sharing would become knotty and gamed.

The one big downside of a service like this would be if it got too good — by enabling you to reverse-stalk the people who are stalking you online. If there’s a single person on a certain city block who accesses my Twitter feed through TweetDeck three times per day, that’s probably worth being left out in the 1s and 0s in the ether. After all, one of the core ideas of the Internet is to allow some semblance of anonymity, right? You don’t want to infringe on people’s ability to consume information.

Photo by Flickr user, Cameron Cassan aka Shot_by_Cam.

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  1. Marshall Kirkpatrick Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Keep pushing for this Liz and hopefully more vendors will get excited about it too!

  2. Threadsy has some features in this area, and we will be adding more in 2010.

    In addition to integrating all of your social media in one place, we also pull together all of the publicly available information on each of the people with whom you communicate. If you were to send me an email, for example I could see any tweets, profile pages, photos or music that was associated with your email address.

    We are still in beta, but if you or your readers are interested, here is an invite link.

    http://bit.ly/4HsGgv

  3. Michael Kozakewich Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    I’ve been thinking about this very concept. A social media dashboard would help organize all those emails, feeds, replies, friends, and tweets we get on a daily basis.

    I had never thought about Privacy settings, though. I wonder if sites like Facebook have APIs you can use to control your privacy? (Probably not.)

  4. Garin Kilpatrick Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Analytics: As the way we find each other evolves vis a vis the real time web the way we analyze search must also evolve. Expect Google to make improvements here, but for now I am content with link tracking via bit.ly.

    Privacy: There will be less of this. In 2010 expect “openness” to take the web by storm.

    Google has already heard your wish for a Dashboard, learn what they know about you at: google.com/dashboard

    All the best in 2010!

    Garin

  5. As for learning what “they” know about you, much of it is already out and about… I hear you looking for a central place to look at it. Good luck!

    As for a central place or even disparate places to provide full control: I’m a cynic, and certainly not holding my breath.

  6. Very interesting.

    I’ve spend the entire year developing a website/tool with exactly the same thoughts in mind. I struggled with the analytics part of it though … having analytics to analyze relationships might not always be the most “friendly” thing to do …

    Although it’s still in alpha and obviously work in progress, you might want to check it out : http://www.symbyoz.com.
    Cheers.

  7. Good post, I think we might just get there in 2010.

  8. Our team have integrated different social networks/applications to form an aggregated network/application (ie. the “personal dashboard”) as a key feature of our Twalky platform. For the most part of 2010, we will develop this personal dashboard to include the mainstream social networks like Facebook, Twitter etc.

    Sign in to http://twalky.com for more clues on what social apps/networks will hatch out of stealth soon. As a teaser, download TwalkyEvents from the iphone App Store and you would see how LeWeb2009 network in http://www.twalky.com is integrated into the TwalkyEvents network (and its iphone app) through “connections”.

  9. Michael Kozakewich Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    Actually, is there a list where I can find every single “Web 2.0″ application?

    I’m wondering how many have good APIs.

  10. 2010 wish granted, Liz. » By Elias Bizannes » DataPortability Tuesday, December 29, 2009

    [...] Liz Gannes wrote a post on GigaOM asking for a service that could give her a dashboard for the social web, in 2010. [...]

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