The quandry of the open graph.

Global GraphSo, Facebook announced then released some changes to functionality which they claim will turn the whole internet into the "social web". No more will sites be isolated islands in the stream - they can all be connected and find out who is visiting and what they like in a way never possible before. But, according to the naysayers, at what cost?

I won't go back over the well trodden ground of what the announcements and changes give us - a good, easily digestible guide can be found here.

The price we pay?

Go back a year or so and you would hear cries of "we want to tear down the walled gardens - we don't want our info tucked away where we can't access it or share it with other services". Isn't that what we always used to say? We want a connected social web where everything gathers in one place, where everything is compatible and we do not have multiple systems spreading our footprint at random over the web. The problem that this is complex and requires a lot of organisation. It unfortunately takes someone with the size and power of Google or facebook to be able to pull it off.

We should have seen this coming - it was inevitable really. We had multiple, competing, disparate Social Media systems which were incompatible. Next came APIs and aggregators; an "open graph" is the next logical step, except it doesn't aggregate on a third party site but back at the primary service.

We have had Diggs, likes, bookmarks, shares, all before but these were with isolated entities with little, or no, interaction with the rest of the social world. The big difference now is the element of control. Others have tried a single identity system (Open ID for example) but the publicity is minimal and there isn't the sexiness of something like the facebook brand behind it. What else does OpenID give you? Nothing, I'm sorry to say!

We may resent any one company having access to all the info which can be used to their own ends (do you really think facebook are doing this from a purely selfless perspective - of course not) but, let's face it, who else currently has the wherewithall to achieve such a wide reach?

Are we willing to prostitute ourselves to the facebook cause in return for the potential traffic that might be generated in return? I think you'll hear a lot of "hell yes" responses to that question. But what of the privacy issues being raised? In many ways this is already a moot point. Those who would be most willing to use the open graph to its full potential are those who already live their lives plastered all over the web - if you conduct your daily activites in full view of everyone with a twitter or facebook account then you are, to a degree, already saying that you don't care that much about privacy.

Privacy is not the real issue

If we accept that we are essentially already beyond the point where privacy is no longer an issue then we are left with the argument about openness. Facebook call it their "open graph" and, to a degree, some of it is but there are limits. Yes, you can dip your hand in the cookie jar and get out something nice but the concern is with only one entity having control. The fear is that facebook can, if they so wish, screw the lid on tight and cut you off from the open graph - no more cookies for you.

We must always consider the implications when we let one service profilerate into just about every facet of our online lives - just look at the problems Chris Brogan and CC Chapman have been experiencing with getting locked out of their own Google accounts but these incidents are not malicious.

Let's be realistic: facebook are so in the public eye with this and, yes, they are going to utilise a LOT of the data for their own ends (usage patterns, links, targetted advertising etc.) but are they REALLY going to abuse that position and face the potential fallout / loss of trust / loss of revenue? I think not. You can't blame a company for wanting to maximise their revenue potential - after all facebook is a revenue driven company just like Apple, Google, Microsoft but, with great power there must also come great responsibility.

The plus side

We must consider the idea that having one entity control your "online identity" in this way might be beneficial: we all know who facebook are. We have one, single, accountable entity - if something screws up we know exactly where to go or who to point the finger at. The key word there is "accountable". As much as the doom mongers might like to criticise the way facebook are going about imposing their will over the web there is no denying that they are/will be accountable for any problems or misuse of the data collected.

How long before the open graph is accepted as the norm and the arguments are forgotten?

Image from Mashable

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