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On open networks...

Recently the CEO of Google Inc. Eric Schmidt stated

"If it's not searchable by Google, it's not open, and open is best for the consumer,"


"People should be able to move from place to place, and their data is available everywhere,"

as he was speaking at IBM's Business Partner Leadership Conference.

I got the quotes from this blog post at CNET but couldn't find the original transcript of the talk to ensure contextual integrity of the quotes. As they stand and assuming the author of the post didn't lose any context I would say I agree and disagree with the statement.

I agree with the statement if he is only talking about data that a user wishes to be public online. If a user wishes to have their data be private then it should NOT be searchable by google or any other public service sites. The problem with many social networks that Schmidt is pointing out is that in many social networks even "public" means, "public only to other members of this site" as opposed to "public to the entire internet" which would open that data to the mining and searching capability of google. I think the user should be given both options and most social networks do not even offer this choice to their users and Schmidt is correct in pointing this out. Unfortunately, his word selection implies public in only one way (public to the internet)

There are many examples of users that specifically do not want their data to be publicly searchable. Businesses who are using social networks to manage events or collaborate with employees and partners will not want this information to be public (to the internet) as that may weaken their competitive advantages with respect to competitors by making their plans known to them. Also, users who join relationships sites and provide the large amount of personal data that many such networks ask for in order to facilitate the relationship matching services offered will also be reticent to making that data public to the internet. There are many more examples where people create accounts to gain access to a social network precisely because it is NOT open to the internet public and is open only to a subset of users who are looking to match some provided good or service with another user or users. Chat is a perfect example, for business purposes chat ideally would be secure and private to the guests or participants speaking but controllable by the chat initiator. Access to any transcripts of the chat is something that the user wants total control over at any time, they rarely want to share this information with the internet. The choice to do so should be theirs before there is any talk of that data being made public to the internet.

The use of xml based feeds like rss allows social networks to easily compile data of various internally provided services and publish that data to public or private resource locations. Many social networks provide these features as convenience to their users but they should not be a requirement put on the networks from outside. If users demand the ability to publicly export their data then they should be given that right or they can leave the network for one that does. Google's motives of course in wishing for public access to data revolves around how they are able to compile metrics over the patterns of interaction that users perform online while on these networks. This would allow them to refine the algorithms they use to provide advertisements (many of the social networks uses Google's adsense internally) and give them the ability to target advertisements relevant not only to a particular topic of discussion but also to a particular moment. The holy grail of advertising is to target an ad about something someone is interested in when they are most interested in seeing it. Google would be more able to provide this capability if they had access to internal social network patterns so it is not surprising they make this statement.

Curiously, one of the fastest growing social networks Facebook is also building the ability to target advertisements both by relevance in topic and time just as Google hopes to do. Google has a bunch of loosly related products that are not easily mined to determine focused likelyhood for the Users (many of them holding different logins across different Google properties) to want to see a given advertisement. Facebook on the other hand is growing by providing an integrated start point for users that is effectively targeting all the interests of the user in one place allowing advertisements to be targeted to unprecedented levels. At the same time Facebook profiles provide a deep level of control for the User to determine who can see what part of their profile data, these customizations are precisely what bring so many people to Facebook but they are anethema to Googles attempt to mine that user data for search and advertising purposes. So we see a polar relationship between the need of the user to control their data and the desire of Google to mine and search what is "public" (internet sense). The conflating of "public to internet" and "public to my contacts" was possibly an accident on Schmidt's part as it seems to undermine the users ability to make their data private or public to a limited set of individuals IF that is what they chose over making it public to the internet. However it is clear that the only "public" that is useful to Google is the "public to internet" definition which is currently not provided by one of the fasting growing social networks in the world. It is impossible to tell if this was more than just a coincidence.


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