Archive for the 'DataPortability' Category

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Opera’s Unite is democratising the cloud

Opera Unite - youtube imageOpera, the Norwegian browser with little under 1% market share of the English market, has made an interesting announcement. Following a much hyped mystery campaign, “Opera Unite” has been announced as a new way to interact with the browser. It transforms the browser into a server – so that your local computer can interact across the Internet in a peer-to-peer fashion. Or in simpler words, you can plug your photos, music and post-it notes into your Opera Unite installation – and be able to access that media anywhere on the Internet, be it another computer or your mobile phone. I view this as conceptually as an important landmark in data portability. The competing browser company Mozilla may lay claim to developing ubiquity, but Opera’s announcement is a big step to ubiquity the concept.

Implications: evolving the cloud to be more democratic
Opera Unite features 1I’ve had a test drive, but I’m not going to rehash the functionality here – there is plenty of commentary going on now. (Or better yet, simply check this video.) I don’t think it’s fair to criticise it, as it’s still an early development effort – for example, although I could access my photos on my mobile phone (that were stored on my Mac), I could not stream my music (which would be amazing once they can pull that off). But it’s an interesting idea being pushed by Opera, and it’s worth considering it from the bigger picture.

Opera Unite features 2There is a clear trend to cloud computing in the world – one where all you need is a browser and theoretically you can access anything you need for a computer (as your data, applications and processing power are done remotely). What Opera Unite does, is create a cloud that can be controlled by individuals. It’s embracing the sophistication home users have developed into now that they have multiple computers and devices, connected in the one household over a home wireless network. Different individual computers can act as repositories for a variety of data, and its accessibility can be fully controlled by the individuals.

Opera Unite features 3I think that concept is a brilliant one that brings it to the mass market (and something geeks won’t appreciate as they can already do this). It’s allowing consumers an alternative to storing their data, but still have it accessible “via the cloud”. As the information value chain goes, people can now store their data wherever they wish (like their own households) and then plug those home computers into the cloud to get the desired functionality they desire. So for example, you can store all your precious children pictures and your private health information on your home computer as you’ve chosen that to be your storage facility – but be able to get access to a suite of online functionality that exists in the cloud.

As Chris Messina notes, there is still an opera proxy service – meaning all your data connecting your home computer to your phone and other computers – still go through an Opera central server. But that doesn’t matter, because it’s the concept of local storage via the browser that this embodies. There is the potential for competing, open source attempts in creating a more evenly distributed peer-to-peer model. Opera Unite matters, because it’s implemented a concept people have long talked about – packaged in a dead easy way to use.

Implications: Opera the company
WebFS-on-the-desktop
For poor little Opera, this finally gives it a focus to innovate. Its been squashed out of the web browser market, and its had limited success on the mobile phone (its main niche opportunity – although with the iPhone now facing a big threat). Google’s chrome is fast developing into the standard for running SaaS applications over the web. But Opera’s decision to pursue this project is innovating in a new area, and more inline with what was first described as the data portability file system and the DiSo dashboard.

Like all great ideas, I look forward to Unite being copied, refined, and evolve into something great for the broader world.

Data portability and media: explaining the business case

The information value chain I wrote about a while back, although in need of further refinement, underpins my entire thinking in how I think the business
case for data portability exists.

In this post, I am going to give a brief illustration of how interoperability is a win-win for all involved in the digital media business.

To do this, I am going to explain it using the following companies:
– Amazon (EC2)
– Facebook
– Yahoo! (Flickr)
– Adobe (Photoshop Express)
– Smugmug
– Cooliris

How the world works right now
I’ve listed six different companies, each of which can provide services for your photos. Using a simplistic view of the market, they are all competitors – they ought to be fighting to be the ultimate place where you store your photos. But the reality is, they aren’t.

Our economic system is underpinned by a concept known as “comparative advantage“. It means that even if you are the best at everything, you are better off specialising in one area, and letting another entity perform a function. In world trade, different countries specialise in different industries, because by focusing on what you are uniquely good at and by working with other countries, it actually is a lot more efficient.

Which is why I take a value chain approach when explaining data portability. Different companies and websites, should have different areas of focus – in fact, we all know, one website can’t do everything. Not just because of lack of resources, but the conflict it can create in allocating them. For example, a community site doesn’t want to have to worry about storage costs, because it is better off investing in resources that support its community. Trying to do both may make the community site fail.

How specialisation makes for a win-win
With that theoretical understanding, let’s now look into the companies.

Amazon
They have a service that allows you to store information in the cloud (ie, not on your local computer and permanently accessible via a browser). The economies of scale by the Amazon business allows it to create the most efficient storage system on the web. I’d love to be able to store all my photos here.

Facebook
Most of the people I know in the offline world, are connected to me on Facebook. Its become a useful way for me to share with my friends and family my life, and to stay permanently connected with them. I often get asked my friends to make sure I put my photos on Facebook so they can see them.

Yahoo
Yahoo owns a company called Flickr – which is an amazing community of people passionate about photography. I love being able to tap into that community to share and compare my photos (as well as find other people’s photos to use in my blog posts).

Adobe
Adobe makes the industry standard program for graphic design: Photoshop. When it comes to editing my photos – everything from cropping them, removing red-eye or even converting them into different file formats – I love using the functionality of Photoshop to perform that function. They now offer an online Photoshop, which provides similar functionality that you have on the desktop, in the cloud.

Smugmug
I actually don’t have a Smug mug account, but I’ve always been curious. I’d love to be able to see how my photos look in their interface, and be able to tap into some of the features they have available like printing them in special ways.

Cooliris
Cooliris is a cool web service I’ve only just stumbled on. I’d love be able to plug my photos in the system, and see what cool results get output.

Putting it together

  • I store my photos on Amazon, including my massive RAW picture files which most websites can’t read.
  • I can pull my photos into Facebook, and tag them how I see fit for my friends.
  • I can pull my photos into Flickr, and get access to the unique community competitions, interaction, and feedback I get there.
  • With Adobe Photoshop express, I can access my RAW files on Amazon, to create edited versions of my photos based on the feedback in the comments I received on Flickr from people.
  • With those edited photos now sitting on Amazon, and with the tags I have on Facebook adding better context to my photos (friends tagging people in them), I pull those photos into Smug mug and create really funky prints to send to my parents.
  • Using those same photos I used in Smug Mug, I can use them in Cooliris, and create a funky screensaver for my computer.

As a customer to all these services – that’s awesome. With the same set of photos, I get the benefit of all these services, which uniquely provide something for me.

And as a supplier that is providing these services, I can focus on what I am good at – my comparative advantage – so that I can continue adding value to the people that use my offering.

Sounds simple enough, eh? Well the word for that is “interoperability”, and it’s what we are trying to advocate at the DataPortability Project. A world where data does not have borders, and that can be reused again and again. What’s stopping us for having a world like this? Well basically, simplistic thinking that one site should try to do everything rather than focus on what they do best.

DataPortability Project

Help us change the market’s thinking and demand for data portability.

Why open wins

Open standards matter, but so does the water; and just like water is not what creates a Mona Lisa or a Hoover Dam alone, so too do open standards not really matter that much to what we are trying to do with the DataPortability Project in the longer term. But they matter for the industry, which is why we advocate for them. Here’s why.

Hoover dam

Bill Washburn is one of the soft-spoken individuals that has driven a lot of change, like leading the charge to open government technology (the Internet as we know it) to the rest of the world. He’s been around long enough to see trends, so I asked him: why does open always win? What is it about the walled garden that makes it only temporary?

Bill gave me two reasons: technologies need to be easy to implement and they also need to be cheap. It may sound obvious, but below I offer my interpretation why in the context of standards

1) Easy to implement
If you are a developer constantly implementing a standard, you want the easiest one to implement. Having to learn a new standard each time you need to do something is a burden – you want to learn how to do something once and that’s it. And if there is a choice to implement two standards that do the same thing, guess which one will win?

That’s why you will see the technically inferior RSS dominate over ATOM. Both allow syndication and give the end-user the same experience, but for a developer trying to parse it, ATOM is an absolute pain in the buttocks. Compare also JSON and XML – the former being a data structure that’s not even really a standard, and the latter which is one of the older data format standards on Internet. JSON wins out for using asynchronous technologies in the web2.0 world, because it’s just easier to do. Grassroots driven micro-formats and W3C endorsed RDF? Same deal. RDF academically is brilliant – but academic isn’t real world.

2) Cheap to implement
This is fairly obvious – imagine if you had two ways of performing something that did the same thing, but one was free and the other had licensing costs – what do you think a developer or company will use? Companies don’t want to pay licensing fees, especially for non-core activities; and developers can’t afford license fees for a new technology. Entities will bias their choices to the cheaper of the two, like free.

I think an interesting observation can be made about developer communities. Look at people that are the .Net community, compared to say something like Python advocates. You tend to find Python people are more open to collaboration, meetups, and other idea exchanges rather than the .Net developers who keep to themselves (a proprietary language). With the Microsoft owned .Net suite requiring a lot more costs to implement, it actually holds back the adoption of the technology to dominate the market. If people aren’t collaborating as much when compared to rival technologies, that means less innovation, more costs to learning – a longer term barrier to market adoption.

The most important point to make is on the actual companies that push these standards. Let’s say you are Facebook pushing your own standard, which although free, could only be modified by and adapted by the Facebook team. That’s going to cost resources – at the very least, a developer overseeing it. Maybe a team of evangelists to promote your way of thinking; a supervisor to manage this team. If you are the sole organisation in charge of something, it’s going to cost you (not anyone else) a lot of money.

Bridge being built on the Hoover dam

Compare that to an open community effort, where lots of companies and people pool their resources. Instead of one entity bearing the cost, it’s hundreds of entities bearing the cost. On a singular basis, it’s actually cheaper to create a community driven standard. And honestly, when you think about it, why a company fights over what standard gets implemented has nothing to do with their core strategic objectives. Sure they might get some marketing out of it (as the Wikipedia page says “this company created this standard”), but realistically, it’s rewarding more the individuals within these companies who can now put on their resume “I created this technology that everyone is using now”.

Why Open wins
In the short run, open doesn’t win because it’s a longer process, that in part relies on an industry reacting to a proprietary approach. In the long run, Internet history has proven that the above two factors always come to dominate. Why? Because infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and usually, it’s better to pool our efforts to build that infrastructure. You don’t want to spend your money on something that’s for the public benefit, only to have no one in the public using it – do you, Mr Corporate Vice-President?

Downloadsquad.com interview

The bulk of the panels at SXSW have been on the whole ordinary. Rather than pulling interesting people around a topic to project new ideas about the future – the panels seemed to have a different formula. One that is “how can I promote my company/personal brand the best, under the guise of an interesting topic filled with buzz words that will suck the audience in”. There are outliers of course, but that’s how I feel most of them have been.

It’s wrong for me to be judgmental of the entire conference, but I have to contrast that with the bloggers room. I’m a new face to the industry, especially the US world where I know few people. But sitting down working on my things (outside of the bubble that is SXSW), I randomly meet people who introduce me to other people. Interesting conversations, interesting people, and you never know who you will bump into.

Like Grant Robertson who interviewed me for one of the most trafficked websites around! (number 23 blog in the world.) Check out what I say, explaining what the DataPortability Project is, and what we’ve been doing since last years SXSW. I wish I said more informative stuff (ie, this is not self-promotion, if I think I did lame!) – but just goes to show where the real value out of a conference like this is: the centralisation of so many people that think alike, interested in each other, thinking about the future.

Best error message ever (for Data Portability in action)

As we were preparing for the upgrade of DataPortability Project’s website, we realised we needed to close off some of our legacy mailing lists…but we didn’t want to lose the hundreds of people already on these mailing lists. So we decide to export the emails and paste them into the new Google group as subscribers.

I then got this error message.

email permissions

The has to be one of the best error messages I have ever seen. Yes I’m happy that I could port the data from a legacy system/group to a new one, using an open standard (CSV). Yes, I was impressed that the Google Groups team supports this functionality (who I am told is just one Google engineer and are completely understaffed). But what blew me away was the fact Google was able to recognise how to treat these emails.

These particular people have opted to not allow someone to reuse their e-mail, other than the intended purpose for which they submitted it (which was to be subscribed to this legacy Group). Google recognised that and told me I wasn’t allowed to do it as part of my batch add.

That’s Google respecting their users, while making life a hell of a lot easier for me as an administrator of these mailing lists.

I’m happy to be helped out like that, because I don’t want to step on any toes. And these people are happy, because they have control of the way their data is used. That’s what I call “Awesome”.

Impromptu video on DataPortability.Org

Daniela Barbosa and I caught up with David and Kaliya. After we finished coffee, David decided to spring a video on us for the Social Web TV!

If you are wondering on what we are doing with the DataPortability Project, then here’s your update.

Data portability allows mashup for Australian bush fire crisis

Last night in Australia, one of the states developed a series of bush fires that have ravaged communities – survivors describe it as “raining fire” that came out of no where. As I write this, up to 76 people have been killed.

Victorian AU Fires 2009
The sky is said by Dave Hollis to look how it is in the movie ‘Independence Day’

An important lesson has come out out of this. First, the good stuff.

Googler Pamela Fox has created an invaluable tool to display the bush fires in real time. Using Google technologies like App engine and the Maps API (which she is the support engineer for), she’s been able to create a mashup that helps the public.

She can do so because the Victorian Fire department supports the open standard RSS. There are fires in my state of New South Wales as well, but like other Fire Department’s in Australia, there is no RSS feed to pull the data from (which is why you won’t see any data on the map from there) It appears states like NSW do support RSS for updates, but it would be more useful if there was some consistency – refer to discussion below about the standards.

For further information, you can read the Google blog post.

While the Fire Department’s RSS allows the portability of the data, it doesn’t have geocodes or a clear licence for use. That may not sound like a big deal, but the ability to contextualise a piece of information in this case matters a hell of a lot.

As a workaround, Pamela sent addresses through the Google geocoder to develop a database of addresses with latitude and longtitude.

GeoRSS and KML
In the geo standards world, two dominant standards exist that enable the portability of data. One is an extension to RSS (GeoRSS) that allows you to extend an RSS feed to show geodata. The other in Keyhole Markup Language, which was a standard developed by Google. GeoRSS is simply modifying RSS feeds to be more useful, while KML is more like how HTML is.

If the CFA and any other websites had supported them either of these standards, it would have made life a lot more easier. Pamela has access to Google resources to translate the information into a geocode and even she had trouble. (Geocoding the location data was the most time-consuming of the map-making process.)

The lessons
1) If you output data, output it in some standard structured format (like RSS, KML, etc).
2) If you want that data to be useful for visualisation, include both time and geographic (latitude/longitude information). Otherwise you’re hindering the public’s ability to use it.
3) Let the public use your data. The Google team spent some time to ensure they were not violating anything by using this data. Websites should be clearer about their rights of usage to enable mashers to work without fear
4) Extend the standards. It would have helped a lot of the CFA site extended their RSS with some custom elements (in their own namespace), for the structured data about the fires. Like for example <cfa:State>Get the hell out of here</cfa>.
5) Having all the Fire Department’s using the same standards would have make a world of difference – build the mashup using one method and it can be immediately useful for future uses.

Pamela tells me that this is the fifth natural disaster she’s dealt with. Every time there’s been an issue of where to get the data and how to syndicate it. Data portability matters most for natural disasters- people don’t have time to deal with scraping HTML (didn’t we learn this with Katrina?).

Let’s be prepared for the next time an unpredictable crisis like this occurs.

Phishing for fraud on Facebook

Wow – now that was interesting. I’ve received spam messages through Facebook, but never this before. A friend who I’ve barely spoken to since 2003 (we used to work together) sent me a Facebook IM and we had a long discussion. She apparently needed me to urgently send her $600 as she was held up at gun point and lost everything.

You can read the below. As an epilogue, I wrote the below message to her as well as posting it on her wall. The wall post was deleted within minutes and I was removed as a friend, which confirmed my suspicions.

I am an experienced traveler so could sympathise with the situation but was fully aware of how con men operate as I’ve been done over before – and I could easily see someone falling for it. I’m sharing the below because this is only going to be more common in our society, as people sign into things like Facebook at internet cafes and don’t log out properly. Use the below as a guide if you ever get into this situation.

Remember that nothing is that urgent that it requires you to send a bank transfer from your online banking facility right now. Only ever send money via Western Union, which costs $70 but it’s quick, secure and truly global. I would know as well – I was in Peru with not even enough money to pay for my accommodation that night and barely for lunch. Western Union can deliver money to post offices, pharmacy’s as well as banks in minutes – they are literally everywhere – and they only provide the money (up to $1000) if there is a passport to validate. It’s a much better way to help out someone in need, as it eliminates the potential for fraud.

———————————

Rhiannon,

We’ve been chatting on Facebook chat. You’ve got $800, so that means you are not in an immediate emergency of not having somewhere to eat, drink and sleep. So you’ve got a few days leeway, that’s good.

But it’s easy to hack a persons facebook account, and I won’t know if it is genuinely you until I speak to you on the phone.

I will help but other than calling family, you need to consider
– talking to the consular which has a 24 hour hotline. You won’t get money but they will help you
– calling your credit card company. They will issue you emergency cash and an emergency credit card.

I am not going to transfer money from my bank account and will only do it with Western Union – as they can confirm your identity with a passport. I am also not going to wire the money over until you’ve exausted the other options I’ve listed above as I’ve done it in the past before and it reduces scope for potential fraud and burden on other people.

I’m sorry if this is genuinely you reaching out, but I am advanced with my knowledge about internet security, and this could very typically be an example of some prick taking advantage of your account which you forgot to sign out from in an Internet cafe which quite frankly I am highly suspicious of because there is evidence to support that.

I am sending this message because you will get it through your e-mail account which is seperately secured. I am also posting on your wall so your other friends can see what we discussed. Hopefully you won’t delete it, because that will prove this is a phishing scam and I will monitor so as to inform Facebook what’s happening to prevent any fraud from happening.

———————————

8:38pm Rhiannon
Hi

8:38pm Elias
Hi!

8:39pm Rhiannon
I am stranded in london and i need your help

8:39pm Elias
ok, what can I do?

(and happy birthday :))

8:40pm Rhiannon
i was mugged at a gun point in Kentish town, it was a brutal experience, all cash i had on me were stolen and my credit card was collected too now i’m left with no money here. I need you to loan me some money to get a plane ticket

yea thanks

8:42pm Elias
How do I know this is Rhiannon?

It’s happened to me before and it sucks, so appreciate it if this is not a joke

8:43pm Rhiannon
what

Elias i would never you stranded in another country if you really needed my help

I am still in shock right now and i’ll apprecaite it if you can help me out

8:44pm Elias
call me on

or give me a number I can call you

8:45pm Elias
if you had a credit card, you are in luck because you can get emergency cash

8:45pm Rhiannon
i can’t make any calls right now

my phone was also stolen

8:46pm Elias
well give me a number to call you

8:46pm Rhiannon
I have been able to raise over $800 but i need $650 more to get the plane ticket back home,so please can you loan me some money till i get back home? i will pay you back as soon as i’m home..

8:47pm Elias
do you have your passport? and who is your credit card with?

8:50pm Rhiannon
yes i still have my passport but my creditcard was also stolen as well

8:50pm Elias
I understand that, but you can get $500 in emergency cash straight away and an amergecy card sent to you within 48 hours

8:50pm Rhiannon
I need you to loan me $650 to get the hell out of here

8:52pm Elias
ok, you are asking me to give you money despite me not speaking to you for over 4 years. but you are not answering any of my questions which could get you out of you situation without me having to give you money which I am not going to do because this is potentially someone that’s hacked into your account

8:53pm Rhiannon
wtf?

8:53pm Elias
who is your credit card with!

8:53pm Rhiannon
You work at Nick’s Seafood Restaurant from 2002 to 2003.

8:53pm Elias
what town are you in?

yes, my facebook profile says that

who was the manager at nicks?

8:55pm Rhiannon
i am in kentish town

9:11pm Elias
Rhiannon I want to help you, but need to speak on the phone. I can’t send money because it’s sunday night here, and I’m not confident about your identity right now. If you can find a number I will call you and see what I can do

9:14pm Rhiannon
Elias i don’t know what else you want me to tell you or how else you want me to prove myself to you

all i know is that if you were to be stranded in another country i wouldn’t even think of it twice before helping you out

Ofcourse you can have the money wired online .. you don’t have to fo to the bank

9:15pm Elias
Well I am still online talking to you, so clearly I’m not blowing you off. But I am not stupid either.

Find a phone, give me the number, and let’s chat

9:19pm Rhiannon
Hotel Manager’s # +447024019672

9:21pm Elias
the number is busy. I’ll keep trying

9:24pmRhiannon

ok

9:24pm Elias
what hotel? maybe i can call reception?

Facebook needs to be more like the Byzantines

Flickr graph Chris Saad wrote a good post on the DataPortability Project’s (DPP) blog about how the web works on a peering model. Something we do at the DPP is closely monitor the market’s evolution, and having done this actively for a year now as a formal organisation, I feel we are at the cusp of a lot more exciting times to come. These are my thoughts on why Facebook needs to alter their strategy to stay ahead of the game, and by implication, everyone else who is trying to innovate in this sphere.

Let’s start by describing the assertion that owning data is useless, but access is priceless.

It’s a bold statement that you might need to get some background reading to understand my point of view (link above). However once you understand it, all the debates about who “owns” what data, suddenly become irrelevant. Basically access, just like ownership, is possible due to a sophisticated society that recognises peoples rights. Our society has now got to the point where ownership matters less now for the realisation of value, as we now have things in place to do more, through access.

Accessonomics: where access drives value
Let’s use an example to illustrate the point with data. I am on Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, hi5, Orkut, and dozens of other social networking sites that have a profile of me. Now what happens if all of those social networking sites have different profiles of me? One when I was single, one when I was in a relationship, another engaged, and another “it’s complicated”.

If they are all different, who is correct? The profile I last updated of course. With the exception of your birthdate, any data about you will change in the future. There is nothing ‘fixed’ about someone and “owning” a snap shot of them at a particular point of time, is exactly that. Our interests change, as do our closest friends and our careers.

Recognising the time dimension of information means that unless a company has the most recent data about you, they are effectively carrying dead weight and giving themselves a false sense of security (and a false valuation). Facebook’s $3 billion market value is not the data they have in June 2008; but data of people they have access to, of which, that’s the latest version. Sure they can sell to advertisers specific information to target ads, but “single” in May is not as valuable as “single” in November (and even less valuable than single for May and November, but not the months in between).
Network cable

Facebook Connect and the peering network model
The announcement by Facebook in the last month has been nothing short of brilliant (and when its the CEO announcing, it clearly flags it’s a strategic move for their future, and not just some web developer fun). What they have created out of their Facebook Connect service is shaking up the industry as they do a dance with Google since the announcement of OpenSocial in November 2007. That’s because what they are doing is creating a permanent relationship with the user, following them around the web in their activities. This network business model means constant access to the user. But the mistake is equating access with the same way as you would with ownership: ownership is a permanent state, access is dependent on a positive relationship – the latter of course, being they are not permanent. When something is not permanent, you need strategies to ensure relevance.

When explaining data portability to people, I often use the example of data being like money. Storing your data in a bank allows you better security to house that data (as opposed to under your mattress) and better ability to reuse it (ie, with a theoretical debit card, you can use data about your friends for example, to filter content on a third party site). This Facebook Connect model very much appears to follow this line of thinking: you securely store your data in one place and then you can roam the web with the ability to tap into that data.

However there is a problem with this: data isn’t the same as money. Money is valuable because of scarcity in the supply system, whilst data becomes valuable from reusing and creating derivatives. We generate new information by connecting different types of data together (which by definition, is how information gets generated). Our information economy allows alchemists to thrive, who can generate value through their creativity of meshing different (data) objects.

By thinking about the information value chain, Facebook would benefit more by being connected to other hubs, than having all activity go through it. Instead of data being stored in the one bank, it’s actually stored across multiple banks (as a person, it probably scares you to store all your personal information with the one company: you’d split it if you could). What you want to do as a company is have access to this secure EFT ecosystem. Facebook can access data that occurs between other sites because they are party to the same secured transfer system, even though they had nothing to do with the information generation.

Facebook needs to remove itself from being a central node, and instead, a linked-up node. The node with the most relationships with other sites and hubs wins, because with the more data at your hands, the more potential you have of connecting dots to create unique information.

Facebook needs to think like the Byzantines
A lot more can be said on this and I’m sure the testosterone within Facebook thinks it can colonise the web. What I am going to conclude with is that that you can’t fight the inevitable and this EFT system is effectively being built around Facebook with OpenSocial. The networked peer model will trump – the short history and inherent nature of the Internet proves that. Don’t mistake short term success (ie, five years in the context of the Internet) with the long term trends.

Byzantine buildingThere was once a time where people thought MySpace was unstoppable. Microsoft unbeatable. IBM unbreakable. No empire in the history of the word has lasted forever. What we can do however, is learn the lessons of those that lasted longer than most, like the forgotten Byzantine empire.

Also known as the eastern Roman empire, its been given a separate name by historians because it outlived its western counterpart by over 1000 years. How did they last that long? Through diplomacy and avoiding war as much as possible. Rather than buying weapons, they bought friends, and ensured they had relationships with those around them who had it in their self-interest to keep the Byzantines in power.

Facebook needs to ensure it stays relevant in the entire ecosystem and not be a barrier. They are a cashed up business in growth mode with the potential to be the next Google in terms of impact – but let’s put emphasis on “potential”. Facebook has competitors that are cash flow positive, have billions in the bank, but most importantly of all are united in goals. They can’t afford to fight a colonial war of capturing people identity’s and they shouldn’t think they need to.

Trying to be the central node of the entire ecosystem, by implementing their own proprietary methods, is an expensive approach that will ultimately be beaten one day. However build a peered ecosystem where you can access all data is very powerful. Facebook just needs access, as they can create value through their sheer resources to generate innovative information products: that, not lock-in, is that will keep them up in front.

Just because it’s a decentralised system, doesn’t mean you can’t rule it. If all the kids on a track are wearing the same special shoes, that’s not going to mean everyone runs the same time on the 100 metre dash. They call the patriarch of Constantiniple even to this day “first among equals” – an important figure who worked in parallel to the emperor’s authority during the empire’s reign. And it’s no coincidence that the Byzantine’s outlived nearly all empires known to date, which even to this day, arguably still exists in spirit.

Facebook’s not going to change their strategy, because their short-term success and perception of dominance blinds their eyes. But that doesn’t mean the rest of us need to make that mistake. Pick your fights: realise the business strategy of being a central node will create more heart-ache than gain.

It may sound counter intuitive but less control can actually mean more benefit. The value comes not from having everyone walk through your door, but rather you having the keys to everyone else’s door. Follow the peered model, and the entity with the most linkages with other data nodes, will win.

Let’s kill the password anti-pattern before the next web cycle

Authenticity required: password?I’ve just posted an explanation on the DataPortability Blog about delegated authentication and the Open Standard OAuth. I give poor Twitter a bit of attention by calling them irresponsible (which their password anti-pattern is – a generic example being sites that force people to give up their passwords to their e-mail account, to get functionality like finding your friends on a social network) but with their leadership they will be a pin-up example which we can promote going forward and well placed in this rapidly evolving data portability world. I thought the news would have calmed down by now, but new issues have come to light further highlighting the importance of some security.

With the death of Web 2.0, the next wave of growth for the Web (other than ‘faster, better, cheaper’ tech for our existing communications infrastructure) will come from innovation on the data side. Heaven forbid another blanket term for this next period, which I believe we will see the rise of when Facebook starts monetising and preparing for an IPO, but all existing trends outside of devices (mobile) and visual rendering (3D Internet) seem to point to this. That is, innovation on machine-to-machine technologies, as opposed to the people-to-machine and people-to-people technologies that we have seen to date. The others have been done and are being refined: machine-to-machine is so big it’s a whole new world that we’ve barely scratched the surface of.

But enough about that because this isn’t a post on the future – it’s on the current – and how pathetic current practices are. I caught up with Carlee Potter yesterday – she’s a young Old Media veteran who inspired by the Huffington Post, wants to pioneer New Media (go support her!). Following on from our discussion, she writes in her post that she is pressured by her friends to add applications on services like Facebook. We started talking about this massive cultural issue that is now being exported to the mainstream, where people freely give up personal information – not just the apps accessing it under Facebook’s control, but their passwords to add friends.

I came to the realisation of how pathetic this password anti-pattern is. I am very aware that I don’t like the fact that various social networking sites ask me for private information like my e-mail account, but I had forgotten how used to the process I’ve become to this situation that’s forced on us (ie, giving up our e-mail account passsword to get functionality).

Argument’s that ‘make it ok’ are that these types of situations are low risk (ie, communication tools). I completely disagree, because reputational risk is not something easily measured (like financial risk which has money to quantify), but that’s not the point: it’s contributing to a broader cultural acceptance, that if we have some trust of a service, we will give them personal information (like passwords to other services) so we can get increased utility out of that service. That is just wrong, and whilst the data portability vision is about getting access to your data from other services, it needs to be done whilst respecting the privacy of yourself and others.

Inspired by Chris Messina, I would like to see us all agree on making 2009 the year we kill the password anti-pattern. Because as we now set the seeds for a new evolution of the web and Internet services, let’s ensure we’ve got things like this right. In a data web where everything is interoperable, something that’s a password anti-pattern is not a culture that bodes us well.

They say privacy is dead. Well it only is if we let it die – and this is certainly one simple thing we can do to control how our personal information about ourselves gets used by others. So here’s to 2009: where we seek the eradication of the password anti-pattern virus!