It’s been talked about elsewhere but for those who haven’t heard, Robert Scoble decided to run a script on his 5000 facebook friends in order to  copy his FB social graph to Plaxo. Facebook promptly disabled his account stating that his actions where a breach of the terms of service he agreed to when signing on.

There’s a few things to look at here. Scraping is a widely accepted tool, Facebook itself helps users scrape their own email contacts in order to sign friends up, en masse, to FB. What then asks Scoble is the difference between importing user data and exporting it?

Over on Smoothspan Bob puts it well when he points out that one doesn’t I give a contact ones email and agree to call you a “friend” without some  kind of expectation surrounding that.

Nick Carr bats for the other team when he says that the act of “friending” on a social network site, it’s important to remember, is a fairly cavalier act, often undertaken with little thought. He then asks whether Scoble’s “friends,” think of their names, email addresses, and birthdays as being “Scoble’s data” or as being “their data.” His take is that it is their data and as such they should expect it to stay purely where they’ve agreed for it to appear.. And where is that remind me? In a publicly accessible location that hundreds of millions of people look at on a daily or hourly basis. Hell if you don’t want your information made public, don’t publicise it. Facebook friending is just that – the publication of parts of our personal data set.

Sure Facebook made a strategic error this time disabling the account of someone so “in the eye”. I wouldn’t be surprised if Plaxo hadn’t engineered the entire debacle to get themselves some more attention. Clearly FB would have been better off trying to defuse the situation without setting off the bomb.

The question is where to from here – does FB open up and allow scraping to happen (or at least not police it) in a controlled manner and with member options to disengage? Or do they stick to their high horse and get labelled the ultimate garden wall builders?

On a business level now is the time when we see just how mature the Fabebookers are, have they the strategic nouse to get out of this one smelling of roses (the beacon saga would say no) or will they blunder again?

Watch this space…

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • Great marketing/distraction combo!

  • As an operator of an online community, I’m very mindful that people have a low threshold of tolerance for spam and chain letter email.

    ION is “opt in” only. You must choose to register and then validate your membership. Users get an “e-letter” about 3 or 4 times a year and can elect not to receive this.

    You simply cannot afford to alienate your community of users. Other sites that rely on viral marketing risk undermining their value proposition by attempting to sign up everyone on the planet.

    Virtual communities seem to offer most user value when they cater intelligently for specific niches.

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