‘Opening the social media ecosystem’ – transcripts of IR11 talk

11th Annual Conference of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR), Chalmers University, Gothenburg, Sweden, October 20-23

[Slide 1]

Hello, Thank you for coming, my name is Robert Bodle.

My presentation is titled Opening the social media ecosystem: the tenuous nature of interoperability

among dominant social network sites, services, and devices  (article here)

This is a distillation of a longer paper that looks at Google, YouTube, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook’s use of APIs or Application programming interfaces to open up user data to achieve interoperability

[Slide 2]

This presentation specifically looks at the values, characteristics, and conditions of interoperability between Facebook and its third party developer ecosystem,

using Open APIs to provide new ways to share and participate, but also finding that FB uses Open APIs to achieve market dominance, undermining privacy, data security, contextual integrity, member autonomy and freedom.

Ultimately this work points to the need for a more sustainable basis for sharing online.

If anyone has ever played a social game on Facebook (including FB quizzes), cross-posted their Tweets to serve as status updates on Facebook, or merely “Liked” using FB’s Like button on websites outside of Facebook.com, they have utilized OpenAPIs

[Slide 3]

Open APIs can be considered the sex organs of interoperability, or software tools that enable 2 or more online sites and services to get with one another and exchange data . .

[Slide 4]

enabling one to access your FB account on CNN.com, for example.

[Slide 5]

Open APIs utilize what are known as “calls” or requests made to a social network to send and retrieve data routed through a third party server.

In this process graphic, using an example, we might want to “Like” a story on New York Times,

sending this request through NYTimes’ server, to FB, which would record our recommendation on our status updates.

As calls are routed through the third party server, user data is opened up to the third party, in this case newyorktimes.com.

[Slide 6]

[Slide 7]

Open APIs enable social network sites to interoperate with one another, allowing cross-posting or the syndication of messages across multiple platforms simultaneously.

[Slide 8]

They also enable social networks to interoperate with a host of third party developers, giving rise to a developer ecosystem that builds on top of the platform, in a relationship of mutual dependency, adding value and driving traffic to the platform by giving birth . . .

[Slide 9]

to a world of useful and interesting applications including mashups

[Slide 10]

widgets

[Slide 11]

social games

[Slide 12]

desktop and mobile applications such as TweetDeck

[Slide 13]

and social plug-ins or the “like button”

[Slide 14]

Interoperability was a guiding principle of the development of the Internet. One of the founders, Jon Postel, who was religious about interoperability and non discriminatory standardization, spent much time and effort making hacks to achieve interoperability among heterogeneous computer systems.

Interoperability was widely acknowledged to prevent vendor lock-in (or dependency on a single company to provide a product or service), drive innovation, drive competition, and reduce costs.

[Slide 15]

With the adoption of HTML programming language, and introduction of the Mosaic browser as a standard graphical user interface, interoperability became a dominant paradigm in the development of the World Wide Web.

Early Internet companies began tentatively opening their APIs to 3rd parties but limiting the number of calls made, and restricting the amount of data shared – the number of calls will become unlimited and access to data less and less restricted.

Far from a risky business strategy industry leader Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, in 2002, urged online companies to embrace interoperability in order to achieve market lock-in and coolness.

FB will take O’Reilly up on this challenge to use interoperability to achieve market dominance, and going one further, by using Open APIs to exclude rivals – a common anti-competitive business practice. FB has refused interoperating with Google’s APIs for years, and yet rival search engine Bing enjoys full access to FB’s member information.

[Slide 16]

In contrast to rivals MySpace and Friendster, FB gradually pursued interoperability.

Looking back at the last five years a pattern emerges – with the release of each new API, member data become more portable, with more and more information gathered and open to more spaces online.

FB’s Developer API released in 2006 was the first related to a social network, and enabled a select group of third party programmers to create applications that were seamlessly integrated into Facebook, such as MyMusic, or iRead These applications had access to information that it could solicit, such as members taste in music and books, but also friends, profile information, photos and events

[Slide 17]

FB’s Platform API gave rise to an avalanche of social games and their viral adoption by members, who authorized full access to their profiles as a condition to play. However, it was discovered that even friends of players information was accessed contributing to what the Northern California Chapter of the ACLU dubbed the “App privacy gap.”

The Platform API also enable the development of widgets and mashups.

[Slide 18]

FB Connect API enabled members to logon to third-party sites with their FB identifications, opening up their activity streams to external sites.

[Slide 19]

FB Open Stream opened up member data to external desktop and mobile applications, introducing new categories of information that could be accessed so that these applications could achieve full functionality.

[Slide 20]

But with Open Graph, FB is able to advance on FB co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s vision of the ‘Social Graph” or the ability to share one’s sum total of connections, preferences, and profile information with third-parties, instantaneously.

Open Graph is really a trifecta of connectivity apps, 1) Graph Protocol, 2) Graph API, and . . .

[Slide 21]

With 3) social plugins, or basically the Like button, FB is able to achieve what its most unpopular advertising service Beacon could not. Like Beacon, the recommendation feature allows the tracking of member preferences and recommendations for targeted advertising, but instead of working invisibly under the awareness of its members, this is now achieved on a voluntary basis.

[Slide 22]

Looking back at was was initially shared through Open APIs with a few developers to the present, from Developer to Open Graph, we see that a lot more member information is open to third parties.

This is entirely in keeping with the companies advertising-based revenue model, where the more FB and its partners know about its members, the better it can offer targeted and predictive advertising, and grow its business.

To get perspective on how FB feels about Apps doing this, Zuckerberg reasons that if over 500 million Facebook users can look up information on each other, “Why shouldn’t an application be able to do that to give you an awesome experience too?”

The obvious answer is that apps aren’t friends, advertisers aren’t friends, FB is not a friend.

[Slide 23]

As FB gradually opens up member data over time, it conceals the shady practice of soliciting and monetizing member participation for secondary purposes.

When members do not have knowledge of what information is being gathered and for what purposes, they lose the ability to anticipate the consequences and make informed decisions.

They lose their autonomy – the freedom from interference to make choices and decisions on their own behalf.

[Slide 24]

As online participation is sucked into FB’s gravitational pull through colonizing the Web with Like buttons, directing info-flows to the network, and commodifying participation changing social value into exchange value – attracting advertisers, through network effects – FB achieves lock-in, where people feel dependent on the social network to participate in the main currents of social life.

Which also prevents seeking alternative and noncommercial spaces and forms of sharing.

[Slide 25]

This is why I believe that we need a new model for sharing based on human-centric values and principles, including transparency, privacy, security, user control over their information, even the granular control of what’s shared through Open APIs, and finally not using interoperability to discriminate, even among rivals.

In this way we can move towards opening the social media ecosystem and help establish a more sustainable basis for sharing online.

Thank you.

[Slide 26]

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One Response to “‘Opening the social media ecosystem’ – transcripts of IR11 talk”

  1. criticalinternetculture Says:

    This talk was part of the panel session titled “Networking and Social Sites”, which was chaired by Michael Zimmer and also featured Christian Thorsten Callisen, with a nice panel overview by Zimmer here: “Debrief: Internet Research 11.0 (Gothenburg, Sweden)” http://bit.ly/bkA5fR (need to scroll down about halfway through the entry)

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