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It’s too late for Dave Winer and John Battelle to save the common web (scobleizer.com)
124 points by minecraftman on Feb 5, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 68 comments

I'm quite torn: I simply can't decide what portion of this post I'm most captivated by. Is it the fact that John knows the exact date from over four years ago that he was booted from facebook? Maybe it's the feat of name dropping a whopping nine different people (I think.. I got dizzy counting) while more or less telling a story about saving a flat file with commas in it. It could be the fact that I just found out that Scoble was a pioneer in the fight for the open web while almost every time I've crossed paths with him in the last several years he's been dry humping a brand new buzzworthy social media platform to death. In the end, though, I'm pretty sure I've settled on the idea that yesterday on what I assume is a professional style radiopodcast thing a number of grown men spent a measurable amount of time arguing about how potentially fair or totally unfair it was that one of them got banned by facebook and also whether heather in 7th period likes one of them.

The only downside of the whole thing is the part where he goes on a broken spirited nihilistic rant about how hopeless everything is while suggesting I may be a social pariah for not having a facebook account.

He and I clearly have a somewhat different perspective on the world, but I am sympathetic to several of the issues he raises. It seems most of his despair revolves around the sense of having "lost" and being overtaken by events. He responds by saying screw it I just don't give a shit about my principles because they aren't working out for me. But the world ebs and flows, and more importantly it needs some people to take a few principled stands about what they believe in and remind people about issues even when not personally advantageous.

Consider what became of the 90's cypherpunk visions as they were soundly crushed by a new millennium bent on ubiquitous private tracking, massive government wiretaps and swiss cheese security. Who would have guessed such an ice age of uncoolness would thaw out in a world where wikileaks was the story of the year, people split dinner with me using money a russian teenager created using a cluster of high performance crypto gear and people organized revolutions online.

Giving up is boring.

There's certainly an irony to the idea that such inexorable privatization of "the web" has occurred within the last 4 years that there's no point in even trying to effect any future change in a positive direction. My only real take away from this article is that if you are a Scoble-magnitude tech pundit then you are pretty much forced to use proprietary tools to maximize your audience. It's a bit like reality TV stars who have to join a trashy television program to get the attention they crave—it's a shortcut to a certain end, but it's not the way work that matters is done.

This is pure gold: dry humping a brand new buzzworthy social media platform to death.

I wonder what the survival rate is after being dry-humped by Scoble?

thank you

And juice. You forgot the juice. It's all about the juice.

IIRC, Scoble was cajoled by Plaxo to run this script against his account under the premise that he could then import all that data into Plaxo. Scoble got caught running this automated script, a violation of the terms and service that he'd previously agreed to. This became a PR issue - I guess this is what Plaxo was hoping for, except Facebook merely reinstated Scoble's account on condition he didn't run that script again (couched in terms of not breaching the T&C again).

Plaxo is nowhere to be seen these days, so I guess the PR backlash against Facebook didn't give Plaxo the boost they needed.

Later on in the Gilmor Gang Scoble defended his actions by suggesting Facebook was just a Rolodex of contacts, and thus he has the right to export all the data of his contacts for his own purposes; pointing out that how is a crawler bot different from him copying over his 5000 contacts into Outlook one at a time (IIRC, Facebook displayed email address as an image on profile pages, so there'd be no paste).

Only today the story has changed that this was really Scoble fighting for the survival of the common web. That's an interesting position to take 4 years later. I don't recall him bringing this justification up before. Perhaps he has in closed networks like Facebook.

If that indeed was the true reason Scoble ran a scraper script against Facebook, then I'm surprised he went through so much trouble to get his Facebook account re-enabled, and then do nothing to safeguard his data against other Facebook reactions to future violations.

Now he's on Google+, and yet this Facebook data still isn't exportable, and I've not seen any complaint from Scoble about not being able to move all his contacts data from Facebook to Google+. I don't recall Scoble using "the common Web" as justification for uprooting from Facebook to Google+, or from moving away from his blog to Google+.

Not sure I approve of this revisionism. If an common Web is important, surely not being dependent on a closed platform is an obvious strategy?

The timing seems strange if you are not following Dave Winer and John Battelle blogs. They both recently talked about Data Lock In and Scoble seems to see it as too little too late. He uses the story to back his position.

My guess is someone pressured him to take a stand and he doesn't want to. Would he have really taken a stand 4 years ago? Probably not, Scoble needs his audience.

>> Now he's on Google+, and yet this Facebook data still isn't exportable, and I've not seen any complaint from Scoble about not being able to move all his contacts data from Facebook to Google+.

Yes, but Scoble explains why he doesn't complain anymore - because the time when it was worth complaining is over, and other tech influencers at that time didn't join Scoble in his fight. Now, I agree with Scoble, that it is just too late - Facebook will simply not allow you to export your social graph, and that's it. You can just waste your time complaining, or delete your account, but that's all you can do.

>- Facebook will simply not allow you to export your social graph, and that's it. You can just waste your time complaining, or delete your account, but that's all you can do.

I'm not sure that's completely true. One could write a browser extension that extracted the data slowly over time and / or use a caching proxy in order to the same thing. I've been digging in to Squid to see how this might be done, but I've just started. Also, for those with smartphones, it seems like the way mobile FB apps integrate with address books might provide another way to backup one's contacts.

Yeah, _you_ can probably do it, but providing a public tool for scraping Facebook (or digging through caches) might be against the terms and conditions, and would probably get the hammer from Facebook counsel.

It's not really revisionism. He says himself he didn't really know what the implications of the whole "walled garden" thing is, when really, everyone did.

I'd believe that his actual motive was to port his contacts to some other network (kind of like how Facebook used to ask for your gmail password so they could spider your mailbox), but there was always a bit of outrage against walled gardens.

In the last 4 years, he probably would have gotten further if he just, I dunno, typed the information he wants to keep into spreadsheet or something.

Sometimes policy fails us inspite of us having capable technology, but tippy-typing with our own little fingers on the keyboard can often work miracles.

It's painful, it sucks, but it gets things done.

Deleting your [Facebook] account just makes you look like a weirdo in today’s world.

I disagree. It's really not a big deal to be without a Facebook account.

You're both wrong :) It depends on your age, where you live, and your social circle. For a lot of people, myself included, deleting your Facebook account would be ridiculous to even consider. For example, myself and several of my friends are spending time working and studying abroad. Facebook is the best way to keep in touch.

I've been living across an ocean from my family for over 10 years, deactivated my FB account 2 years ago and never turned back. So I really don't understand your "ridiculous to even consider" -- there are many other ways to keep in touch, and doing without the firehose of low-quality information (wall posts, movie recommendations, etc.) pouring through FB gives you more time to focus on the high-quality information that can be better communicated through other media (phone, email, etc.)

I understand that leaving FB (or never using it) is not for everybody, but "ridiculous to even consider" goes way too far. I think actually it would be great for a lot more people to consider it, even if they end up deciding not to actually do it.

I meant it would be ridiculous to even consider in my circle of friends.

Facebook is used by everyone I know because it is convenient. It is easier to chat with people, message them, and post photos to them, on Facebook that it is to email individual people. e.g. if someone posts a photo we can all comment on it and discuss it together. With email this is not really possible.

The only reason a lot of my friends have email accounts is because they need one to sign up to online services like Facebook. They do not even check email. It is just a box with thousands of unread friend requests and spam messages. That is why it would be ridiculous to consider quitting Facebook for me. I would be cutting myself off. Obviously I would still keep in touch with friends via phone but we would engage a lot less.

It's not my case, but I've heard from some people that they got on Facebook because friends where organizing events there and not having an account meant not being included in these events. This might be a case where it's "ridiculous to even consider".

In the end it depends on the ways people use it. If it's the only channel for communication, then you have to be in it.

You just have to be cool enough so that people start thinking "how can we organize the event so that X will also show up". Problem solved :-)

Another question: do you really want to meet people who would exclude you from an event just because you don't have a Facebook account? Friends don't exclude friends...

You seem to assume it's on purpose. When almost everyone in your circle has a Facebook account, it's easy to forget that person X or Y doesn't (usually depending on how close a friend they are with them).

Personally, I don't miss my account, but I can understand why others can.

Snail mail, telephone, IM, e-mail, travel. Yes, there are many ways to keep in touch with your friends and family.

I don't know, it's possibly a generation thing but I remember spending most of the nineties InterRailing around Europe and making lots of friends without even using the Internet at all. Snail mail and actually meeting real people are slow processes but they are so much more meaningful than Facebook.

I have a Facebook account that I use only for testing apps I'm working on. I stay in touch with my friends with all of the above means. Needless to say, our conversations when we actually meet in real life are a hell of lot more interesting than if we followed each other's life in real time.

> For example, myself and several of my friends are spending time working and studying abroad. Facebook is the best way to keep in touch.

in your example, can you explain how FB is better than AIM/ICQ or any other instant messanger in what you trying to do?:

FB and any other IM:

- accept people you want on your list, delete etc - see whos up right now - text to one or multiple users the same time (can FB do that), send photos, music, any files - more?

I heard it so many times users saying they need facebook for this or that but in reality, they dont. Its like my sister says she needs to go to google to search for facebook to click on facebook link to go to FB.

I have "normal" FaceBook friends (ala non-tech, don't care about data and privacy, add every survey application, etc.) Removed myself from FB recently. They call me by phone. Business contacts are on LN (a different discussion) and I throw what I feel are interesting posts I find to G+ (another discussion). Though, perhaps in the (large) demo of the populace utilizing FB, you might be thought of as Dead (where is _?), but hardly ridiculous. Some of those same "FB normals" did consider my leaving an effective declaration of real-life unfriending. Is that a big deal? Not to me :D

If you're young enough, delete your account because otherwise you're stuck with lots of lame old people that were born in the last century ;-)

Seriously, what makes Facebook more suitable than email to keep in touch?

Young people use it. They don't use email. I'm 21 and my friends are all roughly the same age. They have a university email account they use for school. They have a personal email account, which they set up almost 10 years ago, and only use to sign up to sites. It is filled with thousands of unread notifications, friend requests, and spam messages. They never check it.

The last time these people gave out their email address was in the early 2000's so I could add them on MSN. In the last 2 years anytime I meet someone new we don't exchange phone numbers or email addresses. They ask "Are you on Facebook?" and we connect there. This is becoming more and more common. I'm not saying that it is impossible to get by without Facebook just that it is more inconvenient. For me, giving up Facebook would have almost the same effect as giving up the telephone (for personal use).

Yes, that's the network effect. It's useful because it's used. It's a fact becuase it's a fact because it's a fact, etc. And it's not just young people either. Most of the people who force me to reluctantly use Facebook sometimes are actually older than me.

But I want to know if there is anything genuinely useful about the form of communication that is Facebook. I think there has to be something, or it wouldn't have become what it is.

Maybe it's that the default mode of communication is spam. Maybe it's that what is said on Facebook carries less weight and hence requires less effort to say. Maybe it's that statements need no reply there. Maybe it's like the village square where people hang out so they don't feel lonely even if they don't have anything to say.

I don't know what it really is. But us hackers should ask the question because it might tell us what to create in the future.

Stays up to date and you can't lose it.

That's true for email as well.

Everyone you know notifies you when they change their email address?

Yes they usually do, but most of the time that's not even necessary, because they simply start sending from a different email address and the first time I reply they are automatically entered into my address book.

If someone creates a new Facebook account or switches to G+, I'm not notified automatically either.

Ridiculous to even consider? What a ridiculous thing to say. There's plenty of other ways to stay in touch. You're using facebook, as is your friend. Don't pretend that without it you're out of the loop. It may take a little effort at first, but you could do it. Hyperbole doesn't help anyone.

I would actually agree that his Facebook scraping should get him kicked off, but not due to some terms of service crap. But think about it. Whose data was he scraping? Maybe Facebook's, maybe the user who entered it should own it. But I don't think it's fair for anyone else to grab all that data and use it for other purposes.

I'm glad that Facebook protects me from someone trying to do that with the data I give them.

If you’re on FB and you friend me and you allow me to see your name and phone number, I can copy and paste it manually. What exactly are FB protecting you from? The people you’ve already trusted with your name and phone number?

FB are protecting you from your friends migrating away from FB. Right now that phone book and those pictures and those birthdays all act as a barrier to leaving FB. If it was easy for someone—who you have already trusted, remember—to download your name and phone number and birthday, they might leave and just call you on your birthday. Or send you an email.

FB has protected themselves. Which is their right, but given that the people you’ve trusted with your phone number can already copy and paste it, FB’s road blocks aren’t about your privacy, they’re about creating friction.

"If you’re on FB and you friend me and you allow me to see your name and phone number, I can copy and paste it manually."

At the time of the Scoble/Plaxo scraping thing, you couldn't copy and paste the phone number. IIRC, it was an image of text, to prevent it from being copied. It could only be transcribed at that time.

But I don't think it's fair for anyone else to grab all that data and use it for other purposes.

Why not? Wouldn't the exact purpose be a determining criteria in that judgment? What if, for example, I use a smartphone that doesn't have an official Facebook app for it, and I want convenient access to my friends' phone numbers and emails from my phone, so I can call and email them. Assuming they actually are my friends in the first place, calling and emailing them is a perfectly normal thing to do. But why should I be limited by Facebook's constraints in terms of how I can access their contact info?

Use your imagination, and I'm sure you can come up with plenty of our perfectly valid reasons why somebody would want to use info about their Facebook friends, outside of Facebook's insidious walled garden.

"... I'm glad that Facebook protects me from someone trying to do that with the data I give them. ..."

I would have thought on HN people, would intuitively recognise "The illusion of anonymity" ~ http://www.flickr.com/photos/bootload/4186206797/ on Facebook and social software in general. Any data you supply, can be bit toggled from private to public at the server.

This seems a bit weird to me. If I could choose exactly how Facebook shares my data with other people, I would probably not choose "Disclose to my creepy ex that I still have his or her number in my phone (even if I have my profile completely locked down and am not friends with my creepy ex on Facebook), but make it difficult for people I trust with my phone number to take my phone number and put it wherever they like."

As someone who has never joined Facebook and is not even tempted, I have to wonder - I mean the web is not like a TV set with just channels 2-13, or even channels 2-100

The web has hundreds of thousands channels. Facebook doesn't own them any more than Google owns search - they are just better at it for now so more people tune in - build an alternative and they will come - slowly at first, but they will come.

Especially when you consider how Google+ got millions of users quickly and how Formspring.me was once described as "addictive". The only thing left is figure out how to be more entertaining than the competition and not get boring. Formspring.me loses its novelty value after a while.

Steve Case used to tell AOL employees, "What can you do for AOL that will get people to ignore Seinfeld after dinner and head straight for AOL?" https://www.google.com/search?q=steve+case+%22would+always+s...

However, I believe you are a minority. Few people think about creating something popular with the mass market. Most seem to want to build a "niche" product so they can buy their McMansion in the suburbs. Most people want to be engineers or entertainers, but not both.

Right! I've never joined Facebook either, and to me this blog post seems like a crack addict complaining about a monopoly in the crack business. For the life of me, I haven't been able to figure out what it is that Facebook gives people other then one more pathetic way to spend their superfluous free time.

But I'm sure that for social-net addicts this is all very serious indeed and I, or anyone else, shouldn't be taking this grave matter lightly.

Specifically, to save the URL as the least common denominator of the web.

See http://oreilly.com/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html

What about Facebook is not open? Facebook.com can be reached from any computer with an Internet connection. The content is standards-compliant HTML, CSS, and Javascript, delivered via standards-compliant TCP/IP. Anyone can create an account. Anyone can interact with anyone else, provided they mutually agree to do so.

The content is not indexable by search engines--true. But, while that is obviously a problem for search engine companies, that doesn't mean it's not "open."

In terms of getting data out, I had every piece of data I entered into Facebook before I entered it. I have my personal info. My photos and videos were on my cameras, phones, or computers before I uploaded them. The links I posted were in my browser history first. My comments were in my head before I typed them out.

Sure I don't have an easy way to export my friends' data, but that is not my data--it's theirs. Anyway if they are really my friends I can just ask them for their email address or phone number or whatever.

What am I missing? Facebook is a website that requires authentication to use certain features. So is scobleizer.com.

One problem is that, yes, "Anyone can interact with anyone else, provided they mutually agree to do so," but they can only interact in the ways that Facebook defines and allows. You can't, for example, easily write your own app to run on whatever platform you happen to use (hell, maybe you want a "green screen" AS/400 app, who knows?) that lets you post to your friends' wall, or read their posts. And you can't easily load the data about your friends into a database that lets you query it... I mean, quick, how do you find "all my friends with birthdays in March" on Facebook? OK, that was a contrived, off-the-cuff example, but it gets to the point of the thing.

Sure I don't have an easy way to export my friends' data, but that is not my data--it's theirs.

That's arguable, IMO. If I have a list of my friends phone numbers and birthdays in a pen and paper address book, would you argue that I don't have the right to copy that book, or remix / reorganize / reuse the data in it, as I want (so long as I'm not violating my friends' rights somehow in the process, like spamming them)?

What we need is for Facebook / G+ etc. to adopt the work being done by the Semantic Web community and the Federated Social Web XG and open the "walled gardens." OR we need new platform(s) to emerge that do so, and for those platforms to supplant Facebook and the other centralized, dictatorial platforms.

twitter/goog/facebook will, at some point, create a social CRM, or general PRM (personal relationship manager) with real, actionable, detailed functionality, but it will be enterprisey at a cost level, at least at first. Yes, total guess here on my part but...

When you've got detailed stats on hundreds of millions of users, and how they relate, yes, making money from ads is one revenue stream. The next will be selling that data back to us via nice database interfaces.

select * from followers_of_my_followers where birthday=today and interested in ('fashion','shoes','puppies'); followers.each { follower.message("Happy Birthday from frobozzco! click here for 20% off our new hushpuppies in neon green!"); }

We could pretty easily do that sort of stuff today if there was more of an opportunity for extraction/scraping/mining, but that's generally discouraged by the big players, because, I think, they're going to sell it back to us on a per-use or monthly fee.

Nice argument, but don't you think that Facebook used your actions to associate your friends, your time spent on its site, your many interactions with your friends, your uploads etc. Gained your trust. And should in return give you access to a little convenience?

After all if Facebook is good to gain so much trust for all this, then it surely would be good to retain your continuing clientage(?)/usage?

What its doing by not allowing its users to move off its own cool-aid, is insulating itself from future backlashes from its users for various issues that may cause them from moving. It could be seen as FB protecting its own interest, but it looks more like a severe case of FB protecting its own future lapses. This majorly sucks in matters of trust. A trustworthy approach would be having courage to take responsibility for any future lapses if they may occur. And to be prepared to face the music. And making data accessible to users convenience is a sign of this promise.

You go get wasted on FB if you like, but I know whom (http://www.google.com/+) to trust and why.

And right on cue, see this: [Risk No. 1: We need users](http://www.fool.com/investing/general/2012/02/04/what-is-fac...)

You were not kicked off of Facebook because of "running a script to try to save the common web".

They kicked you off for running a data scraper in violation of the terms of service you agreed to when signing up an account.

I actually wrote about this a couple of days ago. Winer even responded to me on twitter. I think we need to change the premise of the conversation. That might help inspire a new generation of young startups.


Hey responded because you insulted him. Of course, you were right. Enough people hate dave winer that RSS does need a new face, but you, like a lot of writers, backed down when confronted with him. You should have stuck to your guns, because you were right.

Well, I am for an open web, especially in the linked data/semantic web sense. That said, Facebook, Google, and Twitter make it really easy to export your data. Just to be sure about Facebook, I just went to my account settings and requested a data dump, which is happening right now. Similarly, I like to periodically dump my GMail, Google documents, and Blogger blog posts. It seems stupid not backing up your own data. I don't back up G+ data but I use G+ mostly just to link to my long Blogger blog posts. For a public presence, people should really own their own domains. Blogger makes it really easy to assign your blog to a subdomain that you own.

I take a few steps to maintain a modicum of privacy: I log off Facebook after looking at family and friend's posts, and I often run Chrome in Incognito mode because I think that it makes general web browsing a little safer.

Whatever this data dump from FB consists of, is it in some usable form? My understanding is that it's a pdf without any ability to import it into any other software. For example, can you import birthdays directly into iCal (or w/e) or import email/ phone #s into your desktop or mobile addressbook?

I just downloaded the dump. It is HTML and JPEG images. So, you are correct: you would need to write a script to extract what you want.

As far as I know, the data dump does not include your friends' email addresses, so it'd be useless for the author of the article.

This is a very boring techpolitics piece but it does give one interesting thought:

In a search for privacy we are locking ourselves in other's walled gardens.

I think a lot of the problem is that there's no easy, good set of protocols for social networking.

Want to plan a party? There's no protocol for that. We have email and calendars, but we don't have party planning. You can't fire up your calendar client and organize a party with. The best you can do is set a reminder for yourself and then invite others to share that reminder. No comments, RSVPs, etc etc.

Want to share a link with people and have moderateable comments? There's no protocol. Plenty of sites will do it, but none are interoperable.

You can lament the loss of the open web all you want, but if you aren't helping make these protocols a reality, you aren't part of the solution.

I don't get it. Couldn't this scraping be easily done with own Facebook API? Why should you run a scraper to find out all your friends?

Phone numbers aren't exposed via the Facebook API under any circumstance. For a long time it was the same with emails, including when Scoble wrote that script, but now you can get a user's email by specifically asking for that information via the permissions API.

This is not entirely true. A Facebook application can get an email address of an authorized user by requesting it [1] (in the authorization dialog, the user can choose to send the application either the email address they signed up with Facebook for, or a proxied Facebook email address). There is currently no way to use the Graph API to retrieve your friends' email addresses.

[1] To do this, your application has to request the email permission. There is no equivalent friends_email permission. See http://developers.facebook.com/docs/reference/api/permission...

Ah, true, yes, if I authenticate a Facebook application against my account I can't give it access to my friends' emails, which was the core functionality of Scoble's script.

Or you could get your Facebook data via this way: http://www.europe-v-facebook.org/EN/Get_your_Data_/get_your_...

That won't work. They certainly don't include friends' contact info when you request data that way.

So, exportable contacts = the common web? Please, Scoble, just stop it already.

With these posts, Scoble simply reinforces my personal impression of him as the Court Jester of the Internet.

if it really become a problem I dont think Fb/Zuck can stop hackers/programmers from building tools to export user profile, all photos, data, etc.

its quite simple VB stand-alone (so they dont block one IP) application with IE window in it. you log in, and VB is scrapping all the data creating excel file with contacts, saving images organized in folders for other web import, etc). not that big of a deal, right?

Scoble is lazy. If you really care about a contact, you will copy the information even if it requires typing each individual character.

its the gopher argument..

Some of yo may remember an alternative to web called gopher..

It eventually died due to web being free and it not being free.

The form that is more'free'than fb as far as barriers, etc will out-compete fb.. DW, etc have very little to worry about as this changes rapidly and does not stay the same.

Gopher was open:


It just sucked compared to HTTP.

I remember being shown mosaic on the day it went into limited academic beta and (after half an hour or so) saying "It's pretty and all but I can't see how it's ever going to replace gopher"... the person I said it to still won't let me forget that. However, at the time, I had a point. Not always easy to see that with perfect hindsight.

I was the same way when I was shown Mosaic, neat, but what is the point of it? At the time I was perfectly happy with the following text based applications: email,newsgroups,MUDs,ftp.


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