Last week we saw yet another example of Facebook closing down its social graph to an application (Facebook Brings Down The Hammer Again: Cuts Off MessageMe’s Access To Its Social Graph). This time it was MessageMe that got kicked to the curb. What’s particularly interesting about this pattern of behavior, apart from the obvious fact that Facebook’s monopoly in the social networking space is anti-competition, is what this says about data ownership. Facebook has never been shy about admitting that it owns your data and if you don’t like it you can choose not to use their service. I totally understand their position, its a smart move for them and further increases their stranglehold on a whole cross-section of applications.
Now lets flip this conversation away from the consumer, who may be loosing some key MessageMe functionality that will force it to move to Facebook’s native app, and look to the business. They absolutely cannot afford to have Facebook call the tune in terms of their business network. Just imagine if you wanted to build an application for your customers that leverages the portion of their graph that represents their interactions with you. Your customers are happy to give you access to their Facebook network by signing up to your new service, but Facebook doesn’t like your application because they feel it competes with one of their native apps.
This tight grasp that the various vendors are placing on their respective networks (e.g. Facebook on the social graph and Google on the knowledge graph) proves out the value that these very smart companies are placing on this data. And while this is a nice vindication for those of us who have been working in this space for the last decade — starting with the knowledge graph (semantic web) and then moving on to the social/interest graphs (social web) — its a very depressing state of affairs for the future competitive landscape.
So what is the alternative? At an absolute minimum you must ensure that you maintain your own network, i.e all interactions between you and your customers. Don’t rely on Facebook’s native solution alone, but rather ensure that you have your own socially-enable Consumer Web & Mobile Experience which puts you in the driving seat and not Facebook. Ensure that it can federate interactions to social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter if that’s what your customers want, but make sure that you have the autonomy and freedom to evolve your customer services to suit what they need, and not what Facebook decides they should need.
Anyway, its just food for thought and something that may have companies taking pause before jumping feet first into the Facebook play-pin.