OMG! Facebook want to own the Internet…again.

Last week at the Facebook developers conference, f8, the biggest social network in the world launched a whole host of new features that have got the social web folk in a bit of a state. Including that nice Ben Werdmuller chap and that very smart David Cushman fella. I agree with these posts to varying degrees but I also have an issue with the wholesale dismissal of Facebook as evil.

I won’t list the new features here, if you want to know more check out this nice roundup. The two big changes that have caused the most consternation are the timeline and the new capabilities of apps and the OpenGraph.

The timeline effectively makes it easier than ever for people to scroll through your Facebook history. Every thing you have ever posted, commented on or shared is right there in a nicely scrollable and searchable interface. I wonder if the people complaining about this are the same ones mourning the loss of Google Realtime Search?

The more controversial change is the way that apps can now update your profile. The Guardian app is a great example of how this works. You install the app and read the news stories you are interested in and this is then added to your profile. Now it goes without saying that this data is also shared with Facebook’s marketing partners as they seek ever more granular data on consumers. This change from active i.e. I choose what to share on my profile, to a more passive model i.e. What ever I interact with on Facebook could show up on my profile.

This is a major change to the way the social web works. I think it is fantastically brave and truly innovative. yes it may impact how we use the web (better not view this story it will show up on my profile) but change on this scale is truly fascinating. If you do want to play why not set up a completely private account with only one friend link i.e. Your own account, and then link this account to all the services that want it. See what this begins to look like with interaction from other services. Apparently this might break some terms and conditions though (sometimes Facebook do make it hard to defend them).

Facebook have changed the way we view our privacy in so many ways over the years. The original newsfeed was met with howls of derision and it is now the default model for pretty much every social app. It’s ill fated Beacon system was a bit too in your face with its marketing / sales intentions (but I think we are seeing elements of that reintroduced and I think there will be more). This new change shows how innovative Facebook are and how they are set on changing how vast swathes of the world interact and view (or maybe more aptly ignore) privacy.

Privacy Venn

We hear lots of people churn out innovation mantras such as ‘It is better to seek forgiveness than permission’ and ‘If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats’. Facebook is doing just that and people really don’t like it. Well you are not a paying customer of Facebook. Your data is the product. This has been repeated over and over.

The man who fell

Facebook are being more obvious with this than the sneaky tracking companies that have done this for years. At least they are trying to be upfront about it and show you what is occurring. We are just not comfortable with seeing how we use the web. Is it better to be kept in the dark? Or will you learn more by seeing how you use the web and how the web sees you? I believe the main issue is that this is fully owned by Facebook.

With this in mind are Facebook moving the personal data ecosystem further forward in one step than the more open (source/web) minded folks of the Personal Data Store movement can hope to do in a decade? Is the real anger in the fact that they are keeping this for themselves and not fully giving back? As they seek to link with more and more web services can they begin to build a richer picture of you online than anyone else? Can they create a fully fleshed out digital identity? I think they can but a lot of people are not willing to let them or more accurately, make sure they do it so everyone can play.

This is the key element of this whole thing for me. Let us see where Facebook get too. If you don’t want to play then don’t play. If you want to fight Facebook then fight them to free the data or make them come up with open standards for this personal data ecosystem. They have the volume of customers to make this a reality. They seemingly have the partners and they definitely have the platform. We should be wary and ensure they stay on the right path but whinging over every change is just noise and I don’t want to see that in my stream. I want to see how this evolves. I want to see innovation flourish. I know Facebook might use this all for their own gain. Good luck to them if they do.

Update: Just as I put the finishing touches on this post a much funnier and better written piece about this topic was brought to my attention by Twitter. Read it.

SIBOS / Innotribe

I have been in Toronto since Saturday night and I will be here until Friday all for a little event called SIBOS. For those outside the banking (or maybe more accurately payments) industry it is quite simply the biggest banking conference in the world. This years sprawling venue is the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in Toronto. It is huge. The south side of the centre is mostly underground so there are no windows. As if to hide the goings on from the world outside. The bottom floor is made up of glossy trade stands from most of the major banks of the world and quite a few tech vendors as well. There are dozens of conference rooms and meeting spaces as well as the massive plenary room which must seat a few thousand. It is a dizzying scale and I am lead to believe there are over 7000 attendees (apparently there were 8000 in Amsterdam last year).

The venue is so large that it is split by the railway tracks to Union Station. That split could also be a lazy metaphor for the conference. I am not here for the giant tradeshow / business festival of Sibos but the more intimate and future thinking track known as Innotribe.

Innotribe has brought together some of the worlds greatest thinkers and doers on some topics that I, and the team I work with, are very interested in. After two days we have covered in some depth: How social and the associated technologies are changing business, digital identity and it’s many facets and BIG DATA looking at how the cost of CPU and storage means we can capture and aggregate more than ever, can we see new patterns or business models in this ocean of 0’s and 1’s.

The format of the first two days has been speakers imparting their knowledge and insights, followed by deep dive sessions on the topics where it gets a bit more interactive and hands on through a series of exercises. The line up of speakers has been excellent. From players in the new world of banking and finance like Howard Lindzon the CEO of StockTwits to geek gods such as Doc Searles one of the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto and the driving force behind, the much cooler than it sounds,  Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). The people in the Innotribe space are a real who’s who of the social / tech / banking 2.0 world.

The only slight downside for me are that the deep dive sessions following the talks have been a bit hit and miss. The Big Data session being a great example. Jeff Jonas ran an entertaining session on the group building jigsaw puzzles and what it shows about putting the pieces of data together. This was shortly followed by a pretty dull / vague session trying to represent swift economic growth data in some sort of context. Clearly I like jigsaw puzzles more than numbers and spreadsheets (roll on Playful 2011).

I would also like to see a bit more Q&A with the speakers and though I am not a massive fan of panel debates I am actually missing them at this event because I am keen to see some of these great minds go at it, so to speak. That being said the first two days have been fantastic and have been a bit of a whirlwind. I am trying to get my head around some of the more out there stuff eg Swift Digital Asset grid, more on that in another post, and meeting many, many interesting and frighteningly smart people all mixed in with some good old fashioned jet lag (I type this on my iPad at 4am).

On the first day I switched from the opening Innotribe sessions to the other side of the conference to see a plenary session for the SIBOS track. It was by the CEO of Gartner, Peter Sondegaard, and it was very jarring to see some of the things I had worked on over the last few years ‘Gartnerified’ and presented as confusing graph and visualisations of many arrows and sections that tried to point towards the future of money. It highlighted to me the difficulty in transitioning the thinking of the likes of Innotribe to the world of normal banking and I do wonder if by the time these things are Gartnerified it will be too late for the banks. Time will tell. Now this post is out of my head I hope I can get the hell back to sleep.

If This Then That

The very lovely service If This Then That came out of it’s long beta cycle recently. The service is beautiful and simple in both its design and more importantly its  implementation. As the name suggests it allows you to create actions that occur if something else happens. These are the steps involved.

Click me.

You can create tasks based on triggers from a number of channels. The channels are the usual suspects of the social web

Channels have a selection of pre baked in tasks. Choose one and continue.

Then repeat the cycle for the ‘that’ element of your task.

You then have some more advanced options for the output. Here I am capturing a Twitter Favourite which contains a link to pass the link into Instapaper for me to read later.

Once you have created your tasks you can share them as recipes for others to use.

I love the simplicity and power of this site and what really got me thinking is the lack of this simple rules based operation in the world of banking. Some basic rules might exist for banks around simple notifications such as If my account balance drops below a certain level then notify me. This notification will no doubt be limited to a very small number of channels.

What if banks implemented not only the wealth of triggers shown in ifttt but the linkage to the many services that you already use.  Of course this would need some rather innovative APIs for the banking world with the ability to link outside the organisation and interact with the social web. I can but dream.