Sunday, November 14, 2010

Data Hoarding In The Social Age

The social war is heating up. Facebook has long had a feature that permitted its users to import their GMail address book to help link friends.

Last week, Google changed its Terms of Service agreement requiring any service that imports Google Contact lists to allow Google the same type of access. But Facebook won't 'share' contacts with Google's GMail service.

In response, Google attempted to block Facebook, but Facebook has seemed to find a workaround.

Google's Response:
We’re disappointed that Facebook didn’t invest their time in making it possible for their users to get their contacts out of Facebook. As passionate believers that people should be able to control the data they create, we will continue to allow our users to export their Google contacts.

It will be interesting to see how this battle unfolds. If you were at Google, how would you respond?


  1. Ah.. but there is also a workaround to export Facebook contacts to your Gmail (not created by Google)

    If I am Google, I will promote this in the Gmail help center.

  2. I think they way they responded made them seem very magnanimous. It may be good to post a poll for all gmail users to see how much they value importing their contacts from Facebook. Additionally, I would try and approach Facebook behind closed doors, and question why they will not allow an importation of contacts from FB to Google, instead of having a "fight out" in public.

  3. Finding a similar "workaround" for exporting Facebook contacts sounds like a great Summer of Code project.

  4. I think it's impressive that Google really did stick to its philosophy, and companies -- especially great, but maturing ones like Google -- do need such "moments of truth" to continue being great. So kudos to Google.

    At the same time, the jury is still out on whether the Walled Garden approach is the correct framework in the realm of Social. It's definitely working for Facebook, and Facebook (perhaps) needs to be applauded too for sticking to its own guns.

  5. I find it surprising that Facebook has taken this approach given their history with privacy issues. It seems like the "consistent" approach here would be to share contacts with Google's services. However, I expect that in the long run, all contact lists will be aggregated, perhaps by some external company or service, and this will cease to be a point of contention.

  6. Facebook is so mean, but I don't hate them because Google has been capturing the value of all the web for a long time and will do even in the future. I hope Facebook to change the market in any way, but not to dominate the web. I know that it would be an unrealistic hope. In fact,I think that Google is a winner in this war in term of reputation and philosophy. Facebook announced that it would release its own email service.

  7. By continuing to withhold information and data from other, much larger, companies such as Google, Facebook is beginning wars that I am just not sure they can win. This is in contrast to strategies undertaken by companies such as Google and Apple which are much more open to sharing - contacts, data, code (Apple opening up platform to developers on iPAD), etc. This "open" approach has worked well for Google thus far, and like Erdin, I applaud them for sticking to their guns. By continuing to keep so many things private to other platforms, i.e. the ability to import contact lists from Facebook to gmail, Facebook risks alienating users and angering potential partner companies. Facebook thinks they can offer the same services as Google but better (email, etc) and thus be in direct competition - but I would be afraid, if I were them, that they are just opening up a much larger battle that they have no chance of winning (let's be honest, in the event that Facebook goes up against Google head to head, there is an obvious winner.) Facebook's stubbornness will eventually come back to seriously haunt them.

  8. One last thing - I think Nadia's point that a 3rd party has already created a way for you to import contacts from Facebook is an important one. If Facebook won't do it, someone else will - and Facebook would be better served in the first place to just create this application themselves.

  9. Jen, what do you think is Google's advantage vs. Facebook? Why can't Facebook win vs. Google? Just curious... I think this is very interesting.

  10. Google vs. Facebook is going to be a very interesting battle.

    Facebook clearly wants to become the platform of the whole hopes people will do everything through Facebook.
    Facebook "gmail-killer" is pretty huge.
    But so is the fact that one can share articles and can comment on news sites through Facebook API...With the increasing importance of "reputation" on the web, this is quite crucial. For example, one is more likely to trust a comment from someone who "puts his face" than from an anonymous user.

    Obviously, at least for now, Google still has some advantages.
    But I'm very curious to see how it goes.

  11. The second part of the Google statement concerning "the data that [users] create" is an important one. I wonder if there is space in the market for a company that gives users complete control over their own data--where we can one day use access to our own data (or portions of it) as a form of digital currency.

  12. Given Google's dominance, I think it's a little presumptuous of them to expect Facebook to give them access to contacts and thus more ammunition to improve it's services. I don't believe that this fight has much at all to do with user control over their own data as Google is asserting but rather corporate control over user data. Google is playing it out in the public to gain support but they are not much different than Facebook, the end goal of both is to find ways monetize user data. Aslo, I don't think Facebook has to worry too much about third-party workarounds that allow exports since the average user isn't looking outside the Facebook platform to learn how to do it anyway. The power is in the centralization of data, makes no sense to encourage its dispersion.