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Summary:

Facebook’s approach to data is that of a one way street. Use any of its products — Connect, Comments, Likes — and you keep sending data into the giant Facebook brain. When you want to take something out of the Facebook borg — well, tough luck!

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Mark Zuckerberg announced the Skype-Facebook collaboration yesterday and showed off a great product built by the Skype team. As he talked about the world, he amplified his long held belief that people love to share and sharing on Facebook will only keep growing. He’s held that belief for a long time and talked about it first in 2008. Yesterday, he equated what is being dubbed as Zuckerberg’s Law to Moore’s Law. It makes perfect marketing sense that he would do that.

For me, data is the plastic of the 21st century, something I have said again and again. My belief in the disruptive power of data prompted me to start writing about it long before it became fashionable and we organized a gathering around it as well. I am even working on a book around it. Thus, I was excited to hear Zuckerberg talk at length about data and its capabilities.

Photo courtesy of Inside Facebook

So I set off to write about Facebook and its data-centric approach to the web. To supplement my writing, I asked the Facebook public relations team if they would be kind enough to share a slide with me from Mark’s presentation — the slide you currently see in the post . . . thanks to my friends at Inside Facebook. (I wanted a higher resolution photo than the one pictured versus using a screen grab from the Facebook video livestream).

But the Facebook PR team decided that they didn’t want to share that slide. That answer did catch me by surprise. I mean, I wasn’t asking for a trade secret or an exclusive piece of information. I was asking for a piece of a document that had already been shared publicly. First I was annoyed; Irritated even. But I decided to let it go.

And then I thought about it some more. The answer from Facebook’s press team is reflective of what is Facebook’s corporate DNA of hoarding information. The company’s approach to data is that of a one way street: use any of its products — Facebook Connect, Facebook Comments, Facebook Likes — and you keep sending data into the giant Facebook brain.

When you want to take something out of the Facebook borg — well, that isn’t going to happen. And when you do get access to the data, it is in a limited fashion for a select few companies.

I have been around long enough to know that companies have a way of putting on a happy face. Just as I don’t buy into the “do no evil” nonsense from Google, I have been skeptical of Facebook and its friendliness.

On paper, it is a mere slide from a PowerPoint, but in reality it is the true reflection of a double standard on sharing by Facebook. I think next time Mark or his brilliant CTO Bret Taylor talk about sharing, they should also remember the age old saying — actions speak louder than words.

  1. You know, I didn’t think about it yesterday while I watched the announcement, but you’re right. Look at how many companies have tried to get your friend data out of Facebook, even for such a small feature as to match up user lists on other services. Facebook has repeatedly and actively blocked these services. It’s the black hole of data, as you point out.

    I kinda wish someone had asked this during the Q&A yesterday. If consumers share 2x as much every 12 months, does that mean Facebook hoards 2x as much every 12 months, too?

    I’m a pretty avid Facebook user, admittedly. However, now that I have a child, I’m *very* aware of what information I input to Facebook. It’s disturbing, really.

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  2. Ehhmmm,
    “facebook brain”. Brains do something like this[1], it’s more like a dumb data silo. No visual “self” awareness, no agency ….

    Or do I need more coffee?

    1. Rhesus Monkeys Appear to Have a Form of Self-Awareness Not Previously Attributed to Them, Research Suggests
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/07/110705183630.htm

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    1. You do know how to cut to the chase :-)

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  3. As you say, it may only be a small thing but there is a history of small things which app up to demostrate the culture that pervades everything FB does.

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  4. Hi,

    Om, it’s so great for such a senior journalist to point this out, if only yourself and Arrington had done so earlier rather than the mythical hype.

    It became clear to me more than a decade ago that search would be more relevant if actual human usage could be tracked, and just as google operated the free 411 service to suck in free data/voice-sourcing and testing, this is what facebook is.

    Every interaction with it, even when not a registered user (eg. commenting on blogs even using other ID’s) Is being silo’d for future use, which is why, for exemple, I have stopped commenting/reading techcrunch, and returned far more to Gigaom – you have to question the business acumen and ethics of any brand that returns to pre-Internet days and hands anything (control, data, brand, content) over to such a company.

    The lazy mediarati have created their own 21st Century Ma Bell, which will only get worse unless other commentators, regulators/politicians and users wake up.

    The same goes for the ubiquitous Verb-ing hype of Skype and Twitter ( as their own founders have declared of their ambitions)!

    Yours kindly,

    Shakir Razak

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  5. Adario Strange Thursday, July 7, 2011

    I definitely agree with this post. And I think, albeit to a lesser degree, the same applies to Google. I do hope that an open source group tackles this “data as currency” movement. One’s personal info (who my friends are, where I went to school, etc.) used to be valued at a high premium, but now we’re supposed to hand all this over in exchange for a free Gmail (or Google+) account or a free FB login? I think we the users are selling ourselves short.

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  6. Status Quo from Zuckerburg, he’s always been a user more than a giver and so is his company…

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  7. The thing that amazes me about the FB data phenom is that so many millions of people that realize FB is a hinderance to their personal data management and that Mark is by total nature a douche, lament the networks status quo like they have no choice in the matter.

    No on twists anyones arm to participate in the platform PERIOD.

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    1. “No on twists anyones arm to participate in the platform PERIOD.”

      …Except that a lot of people feel pressured to conform to the standard because everyone around them does the same. I’m the only one in my group of peers who doesn’t have a Facebook account anymore and I get a lot of crap for it because apparently it takes a great effort to e-mail or IM someone rather than write on their ‘wall’, go figure. /sarcasm

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  8. My understanding is that absolute numbers of sharing are rising but the number of content creators as a % of total users is pretty flat. Across UGC that is normally in the 5-10% range.

    So really, the law being exposed is one that has been around since 1999 which is based around content creation. The idea that Facebook is creating or enticing people to join that producer category in droves has not been show.

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    1. Narendra

      I agree. It is true on almost all web sites. What I am amazed is that the growth of data and actual sharing isn’t higher. I thought the more we shared, the more others reciprocated.

      On the law concept, I do agree with you entirely.

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  9. Om, I think we all need to remind Facebook that “sharing” is a two-way street.
    That’s what we teach our kids – sharing does not men you get to play with everyone else’s toys but you keep your own and not share them. Seems like the Facebook kids did not learn this lesson in kindergarten.

    Most early Web 2.0 companies were actually also like this for a long time. You could put your bookmarks on delicious but you could not get a dump from delicious of everyone’s bookmarks but you could browse them on the site. Flickr still doesn’t allow a bulk download of your photos. Even with a pro account – you do them one by one.
    No one called these early sites on their bad behavior and this created a culture where the digital feudal lords own the output of the digital serfs. And that is OK.
    Mark Zuckerberg has taken this to the full extreme as is natural in capitalism as a fully developed economic form of feudalism.

    Data ownership is like land ownership – data is not some just plastic – data is the intellectual raw land of the 21st century.

    And we are all handing it over to kids who in my opinion have no sense of history and have no broad understanding of human motivation or even what the concerns of people very different from them are.

    As I’ve said to you Om, in person, the tech media are embedded, with these guys. If you write bad things you won’t be invited to the next early first-look shindig.

    In my mind over the years (and I’ve also brought this up with Jay Rosen) the adversarial nature of investigative journalism seems to be the only way to get at the truth.

    I just wish we had an adversarial tech media.

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  10. Good article. Google + allows for easy data export. Given that 25% of Google employees’ annual bonus rides on Google +’s success and with the recent memory of facebook’s smear campaign, the motivation is high for them to put out a good product. Facebook’s days could be numbered.

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