What Will Data Portability Mean to Marketing?

    January 13, 2009
    Chris Crum

Social media has changed and continues to change the way we communicate both professionally and casually. We talk and share things with our friends and family, and we market our businesses through networking with others and conversing with other professionals.

In many ways, the medium opens up our lives, and we learn more about others than we would have years ago, and in return, we expose more of ourselves as well. It’s almost as if social media makes the web a little less anonymous (though there is still plenty of anonymity available if you want it). This in itself has its pros and cons.

You’re putting yourself out there for all to see (depending on privacy settings and variables like this), and on one level you can inspire a greater amount of trust from people, because you’re giving off an "I’ve got nothing to hide" kind of vibe. That is what makes social media appealing from the business standpoint.

But on the other hand, you don’t want things out there that cast you in an unprofessional light and draw any negativity to your business, which is where reputation management efforts come into play. This has been, I won’t say "easy," but relatively manageable to some extent. You can control what you post on your Facebook Wall or your MySpace page. You can watch what your friends post about you, or if they put up any embarrassing pictures of you. If you missed something that you would prefer not be there, you could at least rest knowing that it was pretty much confined to the people within your network.

Things are changing though.

Data portability (of the social kind) is not exactly a brand new concept, yet only recently are we really seeing it make significant progress. A post on the blog of the Data Portability Project defines data portability: "The idea of data portability, in general, has emerged to mean the ability to reuse data between services in some shape or form. It may be a one off implementation between two services, a proprietary universal login play or an open standards attempt at interoperability."

Services like Facebook Connect, Google Friend Connect, and others have come to light, and are becoming integrated with countless third-party websites. Websites that you will use. You will share actions that you previously would not have shared. More people will know about what you are doing on more sites. More people will read what you wrote in comments on more blogs. Basically, everyone will be watching your every move. Ok, that’s probably a bit of an exaggeration, but I think you see my point. I think managing your reputation is going to get harder

Google Friend Connect

But I could be wrong. I asked Netconcepts founder Stephan Spencer what he thought, and he said, "I don’t see reputation management as it relates to SEO (i.e. pushing negative reviews/comments about your company/brand lower down the search results) being impacted greatly by data portability."

Dave Naylor talks about some other potential privacy and abuse issues related to data portability here and in this video:

I don’t want any of this to sound like I am against the online world going in this direction. I am not. There are concerns, but aren’t there always? The fact of the matter is that things are changing between progress in data portability and personalization in search, and you can either complain or embrace it. Your life will probably be easier if you choose the latter.

Rand Fishkin of SEOmozRand Fishkin of SEOmoz tells me that he sees data portability as being increasingly essential to services that want to compete in the social networking and social media world. "If you already have a powerful, established brand, you can control portability because you own the channel (think Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)," he says. "However, if you’re a new or emerging player, you need the power of portability to help bolster your value proposition and attract new converts to your service."

"In the future, I find it exceedingly unlikely that the social web landscape will remain fractured – users are already finding ways to aggregate the data they want into the services they prefer, so watch for this to be a massive trend over the next 5 years," added Fishkin.

Stephan Spencer of Netconcepts Further comments from Spencer seem to reflect this way of thinking. "I do think data portability will be transformative to online communication, if it’s truly open. Who wants to build up one’s friends from scratch on multiple social networks? I know I don’t. It’s been a barrier for me in really getting into MySpace. I have many friends on Facebook but I can’t be bothered replicating that on MySpace. I also have many friends on LinkedIn, but it’s the same friends. It’s not like I am doing that by design (using LinkedIn for work and Facebook for personal friendships), I just can’t be bothered figuring out which Facebook friends I missed in LinkedIn and vice versa. The pain of having to build each contact network has also held back the smaller upstart social networks from seriously competing with the big guys."

Once Data Portability Is the Norm

We’re not quite there yet. We appear to be on that track, but until we realize one day that we really are there, we can merely speculate about how it will affect our Internet marketing efforts. It is possible that the more unified social networking (and the Internet in general) becomes via data portability, the easier it will be to measure your social media marketing efforts. If you have everything coming into one place, it will be easier to keep track of, much like a feed reader (and major players are working on coming up with activity stream standards btw). Measurement has been one of the barriers holding back businesses from embracing social media marketing to begin with, so if everything is easier to keep track of, some metrics for successful social media marketing may emerge.