Reader Question: OpenSocial vs. FB/MySpace/LinkedIn

Q: Is OpenSocial going to really open up the social graph and enable new social nets to provide solutions to users w/o forcing them to recreate their networks? Or will FB/MyS/LinkedIn maintain a lock?
Posted by rr

A: Hi RR, apologies for the delayed response on this (I try to turn all questions around w/i 24 hrs max). If you’ve been reading me for a while now (and particularly today’s Investment Thesis post), you know that I’m a Facebook skeptic and a Google fan. This has less to do with the individual merits of each company’s product offerings and more a reflection of my belief that open systems beat walled gardens every time.

With respect to Facebook in particular, even the “success” of the platform strategy doesn’t appear to have turned into real money for anyone just yet (the Zygna guys are welcome to tell me different), and I doubt their effort to control access and extract rents will hold up for long. Andrew Chen is as close to this topic as anyone I know and his recent analysis feels spot-on: if there’s money in there, it’s on the brand side and not in pimping users out to 3rd parties via access control. There’s value there for sure, but it’s not $15B worth and they’re not going give Google a run for the performance marketing dollar anytime soon.

I’m also a firm believer (and have posted to this effect) that the world will come to view your personal data silos (contacts, attention, etc.) as yours to control, and not the posession of the service providers you happen to patronize. In that sense, Open Social just anticipates a much broader liquidity of personal data stores that is likely to come about as users claim ownership of (and extract value for) their attention data. If I’m even half-right about this, any walled garden sits on the wrong side of the trade and will be forced to either open up or watch its ‘monetizable users’ walk out the door.

So, without even dipping too deeply into the merits of OpenSocial as a toolkit, I think history is on the side of giving users control over their own data. Facebook and LinkedInmay need to pretend otherwise to make the most of their liquidity window (should it appear – things are pretty ugly out there), but that dam won’t hold water for long.