Tag Archives: Plaxo

The End of “Social DRM” is in Sight

I am pleased to see a major shift underway in the prevailing thoughts on one of the most important topics relating to data portability, interoperability, and the emergence of the Social Web — the question of whether the service providers need to protect us with “social DRM” or trust us to do the right thing. Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo has an excellent post on the topic, outlining the two schools of thought, and publicly declaring that he has shifted sides in this critical debate:

The issue of what to do with content a user has shared when they decide to delete the content or attempt to revoke it is in an interesting policy issue for sites geared around people sharing content. When I’ve discussed this with peers in the industry I’ve heard two schools of thought. The first is that when you share something on the Web, it is out there forever and you have to deal with it. Once you post a blog post, it is indexed by search engines and polled by RSS readers and is then available in their caches even if you delete it. If you send an inappropriate email to your friends, you can’t un-send it. This mirrors the real world where if I tell you a secret but it turns out you are a jerk I can’t un-tell you the secret.

The other school of thought is that technology does actually give you the power to un-tell your secrets especially if various parties cooperate. There are ways to remove your content from search engine indexes. There are specifications that dictate how to mark an item as deleted from an RSS/Atom feed. If your workplace uses Outlook+Exchange you can actually recall an email message. And so on. In the case of Facebook, since the entire system is closed it is actually possible for them to respect a user’s wishes and delete all of the content they’ve shared on the site including removing sent messages from people’s inboxes.

I used to be a member of the second school of thought but I’ve finally switched over to agreeing that once you’ve shared something it’s out there. The problem with the second school of thought is that it is disrespectful of the person(s) you’ve shared the content with. Looking back at the Outlook email recall feature, it actually doesn’t delete a mail if the person has already read it. This is probably for technical reasons but it also has the side effect of not deleting a message from someone’s inbox that they have read and filed away. After all, the person already knows what you don’t want them to find out and Outlook has respected an important boundary by not allowing a sender to arbitrarily delete content from a recipient’s inbox with no recourse on the part of the recipient. This is especially true when you consider that allowing the sender to have such power over recipients still does not address resharing (e.g. the person forwarding along your inappropriate mail, printing it or saving it to disk).

And, as he points out, Dare is not alone in this shift. Mark Zuckerberg and the team at Facebook clearly appear to be shifting stance as well. In his epic post On Facebook, People Own and Control Their Information, in response to the confusion over the update to the Facebook TOS:

Still, the interesting thing about this change in our terms is that it highlights the importance of these issues and their complexity. People want full ownership and control of their information so they can turn off access to it at any time. At the same time, people also want to be able to bring the information others have shared with them—like email addresses, phone numbers, photos and so on—to other services and grant those services access to those people’s information. These two positions are at odds with each other. There is no system today that enables me to share my email address with you and then simultaneously lets me control who you share it with and also lets you control what services you share it with.

We’re at an interesting point in the development of the open online world where these issues are being worked out. It’s difficult terrain to navigate and we’re going to make some missteps, but as the leading service for sharing information we take these issues and our responsibility to help resolve them very seriously. This is a big focus for us this year, and I’ll post some more thoughts on openness and these other issues soon.

Some of us tried to get this debate started in September of 2007, with the publication of the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web, by Joseph Smarr, Marc Canter, Michael Arrington, and Robert Scoble. In hindsight, the world was not yet ready for that debate; few took notice, and no actions came in response. Then, in January of 2008, when Plaxo was trying to get a Facebook contacts importer ready to launch, which would have enabled social address book sync between Facebook, Plaxo, Outlook, the Mac address book, Yahoo Mail, and more, it turned by accident and miss-communication into a major incident. By then the world was ready to argue and debate the key questions, but not ready to come to any consensus.

But over the course of 2008, projects like Google Friend Connect, Facebook Connect, MySpaceID, and the quickening drumbeat of progress for OpenID and the Open Stack helped the industry to think through the issues preventing data portability and interoperability. In the end, we’re all coming to realize that rather than try to prevent anything bad from ever happening via “social DRM,” we’re going to have to trust our users, so that we can enable amazing things to happen — like all your tools and services working well together!

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Open Stack FTW: Facebook joins the OpenID Foundation!

From the OpenID/OAuth UX Summit

It’s a great day for the opening up of the Social Web. The largest and fastest growing social network, Facebook, has sent their strongest message to the world that “open” is strategically important to them by stepping up to become a corporate member of the OpenID Foundation. Sweet! Breaking coverage: VentureBeat, CNET, TechCrunch.

Given the popularity and positive user experience of Facebook Connect, we look forward to Facebook working within the community to improve OpenID’s usability and reach. As a first step, Facebook will be hosting a design summit next week at their campus in Palo Alto which follows a similar summit on user experience hosted at Yahoo! last year. The summit will convene some of the top designers from Facebook, the DiSo Project, Google, JanRain, MySpace, Six Apart and Yahoo!, focusing on how existing OpenID implementations could support an experience similar to Facebook Connect.

Here’s the official post from Facebook’s Mike Schroepfer. The best quote: “We see great opportunities to increase our contributions across the open stack.”

This news will surprise (or even shock) many, but I see this as a natural and expected move. After all, Facebook has been getting more and more involved in the open community, attending the OpenID UX Summit last Fall and the Activity Streams meetup a few weeks ago. And Luke Shepard, from the Facebook Connect team, ran in the recent election for the OpenID Foundation Community Board. Luke will now be Facebook’s official representative to the foundation.

I have to say this is a great moment in time. I am so proud of my friends at Facebook who have helped make this happen. Props to Dave Morin and to Luke Shepard. You guys rock!

In related news, Joseph Smarr of Plaxo is being added to the OpenID Foundation Community Board as a result of Facebook becoming a new corporate member. (The rules of the Foundation have the Community Board expanding at the same rate as the corporate membership. Joseph happened to be next in line, based on the election results.)

Looking forward to next week’s OpenID UX Summit, hosted by Facebook. It wouldn’t be surprising if I were to live blog it!

Recommended reading: Chris Messina’s take on the news.

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The Social Web TV: Google, Plaxo, and Hybrid OpenID

In this week’s episode of The Social Web TV, Joseph Smarr and I are joined by special guests, Dirk Balfanz and Breno de Medeiros of Google to discuss this week’s rollout of Hybrid OpenID/OAuth and a “Two-Click Signup” experiment between Google and Plaxo. Check it out:

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New Episode of The Social Web TV: “On Feeds and OpenID Momentum”

The acceleration in the emergence of the Social Web continues, confronting David Recordon and me with the challenge of trying to cover six different news items in one less-than-15-minute video podcast. We found a way to weave them together in a narrative arc that starts with some things relating to activity streams (or “feeds”) then segues into OpenID momentum. Topic discussed include: Yahoo adds 20 external feeds; iLike integrates with Google Friend Connect; Plaxo integrates with Amazon; Google adjusts resourcing for Dodgeball and Jauiku; Six Apart enhances support for OpenID in TypePad Connect; and OpenID reaches more than 30,000 sites and more than half a billion accounts. Check it out:

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On OpenID Gaining Momentum: 30,000 Sites, Half a Billion Accounts

Two nice pieces yesterday on how OpenID picked up steam in 2008. David Recordon’s post at OpenID.net is simply entitled 2008:Momentum. It offers a great review of the progress made last year:

2008 was an awesome year for OpenID where the community created significant momentum moving toward mainstream adoption. No, not every site on the web is using OpenID nor does every consumer know what OpenID does, but last year alone the number of sites that accept OpenID for sign in more than tripled1. Today, there are over thirty-thousand publicly accessible sites supporting OpenID for sign in and well over half a billion OpenID enabled accounts.

He supports the claim of momentum with no fewer than 11 proof points!

The other post is from Wired.com’s Michael Calore, entitled Want Proof OpenID Can Succeed? Just Scroll Down. David Recorodon and I are both quoted in the piece. Michael focused on the traction OpenID is showing in the area of blog commenting, which led to this great quote from David:

“Blog commenting is not a niche,” he says. “Social activity on blogs in total dwarfs social activity on any particular social network.”
“If anything, the success of OpenID and Facebook Connect in situations such as commenting on blogs, coupled with a number of high-profile sites, will continue pushing this idea toward a mainstream audience that cares about being able to easily sign in, find people they know, and share what they’re doing on the web.”

Let’s hope that the incredible gains OpenID made in 2008 will be matched and exceeded in 2009. With strong support from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, Six Apart, Plaxo and more than 30,000 other sites, I think that’s fairly likely.

Also worth checking out is David’s other recent post, this one at Six Apart’s blog, detailing enhancements to Typepad Connect, with expanded support for OpenID, including user-friendly click-the-logo sign-in via Google and Yahoo accounts!

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FriendFeed and Plaxo: Latest Traffic Trends for the “Webwide Lifestream Aggregator” Pioneers

The concept of an “open social network,” one that gets its news feed not from within its own walls, but rather by aggregating lifestreams from all over the open Web, first appeared with the launch of Plaxo Pulse in August 2007. [Reminder/disclosure: I head up marketing at Plaxo. :)]

While Plaxo stayed heads-down focused on serving its traditional 30- to 50-year-old professional demographic with private sharing and conversations based on a family/friend/business connection model, FriendFeed came roaring into the space with a service as public and extensible as Twitter, and quickly became a darling of the early-adopter and blogger/influencer crowd.

The two services have continued to innovate down different pathways and to help map out a blueprint that we are now seeing adopted by some of the largest social networks (Facebook and MySpace) and largest of mainstream Internet companies (Yahoo, Microsoft, and AOL). So, let’s take a look at the traffic trend for these two pioneers, through the lens of the latest data from Compete.com. [Note: Compete.com only looks at U.S. traffic, and like all other tracking services, provides an approximate tally.]

Plaxo Pulse and FriendFeed

While each service experienced a month here or there of sideways drift or month-over-month declines in monthly unique visitors, the clear overall trend for 2008 is one of strong growth. Plaxo in particular is showing encouraging signs of vibrancy at the end of 2008.

The key question now: with much larger players putting all their chips on the webwide lifestream aggregation model, can either of both of the two pioneers grow fast enough in their respective niches to carve out a great longterm position in the marketplace?

My belief is that the answer is “yes,” as the Web itself goes social, and the Social Web goes open, creating a wave of innovation that will favor the most agile of aggregators. And as a passionate user of both services, I sure hope I’m right!

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Live Blogging from the Activity Streams Meetup

Up in San Francisco for another open spec community gathering, this one focused on working toward standardization of “activity streams,” the flow of user-generated content which is the lifeblood of the emerging Social Web. This Activity Streams Meetup is being hosted at Six Apart, with David Recordon guiding the event. As Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr tweeted, we hope this all leads to “more structured metadata in feeds”.

As usual, I’ll sprinkle in a mix of photos and observations, but not attempt to take anything approaching full notes. In addition to Six Apart, there are folks here or from Facebook, MySpace, Google, Yahoo, Plaxo, among others. That means there’s representation for projects that span DiSo, OpenSocial, Open Stack, Facebook Connect, Y!OS, MySpaceID, among others. Sweet!

Microsoft’s Dare Obasanjo has a nice post describing the problem we need to solve, entitled, Representing Rich Media and Social Network Activities in RSS/Atom Feeds. Also recommend this post from Chris Messina, Where we’re going with Activity Streams. And for more background, here’s Chris Messina’s talk on Activity Streams at the pre-holiday Open Stack Meetup:

And now, some photos of the Activity Stream Meetup:

Activity Streams Meetup

Activity Streams Meetup

Activity Streams Meetup

Activity Streams Meetup

Lots of good discussion, trying to get everyone on the same page about the problem we’re trying to solve and what we can hope to accomplish today. As people are sharing all sorts of stuff from a rapidly growing list of services (examples just for photos: Flickr, Picasa, Smugmug, etc.). Every social network is either a webwide lifestream aggregator today (early examples: Plaxo Pulse and FriendFeed), or are becoming one quickly (examples: Facebook and MySpace). And every aggregator faces the same set of challenges that arise from the chaos of there being no standard for how to format the feed of user-shared content. No common convention for naming of objects or verbs. This is the classic problem space for the Open Stack of OpenID, OAuth, XRD, Portable Contacts, and OpenSocial.

Great to see the active participation from Luke Shepard from Facebook, who just shared some of the problems of complexity they experienced by having too much flexibility in the verb space. I think he just said “combinatorial explosion” to describe it.

Cool, just noticed that Ian Kennedy is live streaming the event via his mobile phone and Kyte. So now you can watch it so you don’t miss anything!

Chris Messina takes to the white board:

Activity Stream Meetup

Activity Streams Meetup

David Recordon of SixApart, who is running the Meetup, with Joseph Smarr:

Activity Streams Meetup

Okay, now we’re about to go over a draft spec… Martin Atkins of Six Apart is now going over at high-level a review of a draft spec.

Activity Streams Meetup

Activity Streams Meetup

Now, Monica Keller of MySpace is jumping in, showing an alternative proposal and getting lots of feedback.

Discussion of reviving Media RSS vs. starting with Atom Media.

David Recordon is showing a demo of a Six Apart implementation done against the current draft spec in answer to a question from Joseph Smarr about how firm the draft feels, and whether we have any good insights from early implementations. It’s a demo of an API which transforms existing Atom and RSS feeds from sites like Flickr, Twitter, Digg, and blogs into new feeds (which can also be aggregated together) that include markup from the draft Activity Streams specifications being discussed. Along with the work from MySpace, this constitutes one of the first two implementations of the draft specification.

What a great working session! We’re two-and-a-half hours in an still going strong. Good discussion now about the importance (and complexities) of handing “friending” events, whether those are bi-directional or “follows”. Some differing thoughts here from the DiSo folks vs. the big social networks. Good sharing of insights from Facebook and Plaxo.

Activity Streams Meetup

It’s after 6:00, and we’re wrapping up. Great session. Great participation from sites large and small and from folks just looking out for the open Social Web at large.

UPDATE: Check out Marshall Kirkpatrick’s excellent piece on the event on ReadWriteWeb (which also was syndicated to the New York Times) and Marc Canter’s thoughtful post, DiSo Activity Stream Standard.

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Optimism for 2009: Joseph Smarr Demos the Near-Future of the Social Web on the Open Stack

Joseph Smarr at the Open Stack Meetup

It is kind of fashionable at the moment to point out the real or imagined shortcomings of OpenID, in light of the elegance of Facebook Connect. But the reality is that together with the other elements of the Open Stack (OAuth, XRD, Portable Contacts, and OpenSocial), OpenID is entering 2009 with incredible momentum, and tantalizing possibilities. And no one is more capable of demonstrating the possibilities than Plaxo’s Joseph Smarr, who “kicked ass” at the recent Open Stack meetup. Video of his killer presentation with demos has just been posted online. Yes, it’s geeky, and the demos are not pretty to look at, but the new capabilities shown will be turned into product early in 2009 at Plaxo, Google, Yahoo, and MySpace, among others. If you want a glimpse into the near-future of the Social Web, built on the Open Stack, this is 17 minutes of must-see TV:

Also, check out Joseph’s new post reviewing six months of progress on Portable Contacts.

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My Keynote Address at Last Week’s Open Stack Meetup

2008 is going out on a high note, with incredible momentum for the new Open Stack. I had the honor of delivering a brief introduction to the Open Stack at last Friday evening’s Open Stack Meetup in San Francisco. We’ll end up using this material on The Social Web TV somehow, but thought I’d share this you now. [Warning: Contains cursing.]

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Birth of the Social Web: Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect Now Available to All

December 4, 2008. Today may be remembered as the birth of the Social Web, as two major projects aimed at turning the Web social emerged from their restricted beta periods for general availability, Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect. Together, these two major events sound the death knell for the walled garden phase of social networking. Early reactions to the news are quick to frame this as a head-to-head battle between Google and Facebook, but the truth requires a look at the details, and I think something much more profound is happening…

First, the similarities. Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect share the same basic vision of the Social Web. Any site can become social, without having to build up its own social network. Users should be able to access those social features without having to experience the pain of usernames, passwords, uploading a photo, filling out a profile, importing an address book, and re-friending the people they’ve already connected with elsewhere. And, activity streams out to web-wide lifestream aggregators should become important engines of social discovery and growth for the site.

Now to the differences. One major difference between these two offerings is the technology under the hood. Google Friend Connect is built on the “open stack,” leveraging building blocks like OpenID, OAuth, and OpenSocial, whereas Facebook Connect is built on Facebook’s proprietary stack. A second difference is target market. Facebook has clearly focused on major sites, like Digg, Hulu, and CitySearch, and while simple implementations can be done with very little coding, most will involve a bit more complex development. Google, in contrast, has explicitly targeted the “long tail” of the web, sites that would never dream of writing their own social code; the focus of Google Friend Connect is to help these sites become social by cutting-and-pasting a few lines of javascript. The third major difference is one of strategy. Facebook Connect is all about making Facebook more useful to its users all over the Web. Google Friend Connect, on the other hand, is all about making the Web more social, with an approach that incorporates other social networks. For example, the current release integrates not only Orkut, but also Plaxo. (And recall that the earliest version also included Facebook, until Facebook shut that down.)

I’ve been playing around with Facebook Connect and Google Friend Connect all along the way while these services were being carefully tested and refined prior to today’s formal rollout. I like them both, but see lots of room for improvement. But that’s to be expected; this is a major shift in how the Web will work, and there’s a lot of complexity under the covers. Today marks the birth of the Social Web, and we should expect to see lots of rapid progress for this newborn.

For those who haven’t checked out Google Friend Connect yet, I’m including a few screenshots…

Signing up via Google Friend Connect

Turning on Sharing to Plaxo

Signed in with a single click

Activity shows up in Plaxo!
My activity showing up in Plaxo

Oh, and you can check out the “Dive Bomber” site I used for these screenshots here.

Update: I just realized that I can now declare victory on the prediction I made for 2008, a prediction I made on December 6, 2007!

Update: The new episode of The Social Web TV is now up, with Joseph Smarr and I addressing the question, “Facebook Connect vs. OpenID?”:

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