From the Department of Facebook Just Can’t Stay Out of Trouble…
Posted by Bob Warfield on January 3, 2008
This just in:
Robert Scoble, he of the 5,000 friends and can’t sign up any more, has been blocked from Facebook for trying to download his social graph. Apparently he ran a script provided to him by Plaxo that was aimed at connecting the two worlds together. All it did was gather the name, email, and birthday of his Facebook friends. Much as I hate when I agree with the oh-s0-gossipy Kara Swisher, she’s right when she says:
In fact, it seems to me that the company is about to shoot itself in the foot once again.
Geez guys, didn’t you get enough bad press around Beacon? Didn’t it at least occur to you to have a list of VIPs who required some form of sign off before you did anything noxious to their accounts no matter how badly they behaved? Did you have the list and zap Scoble anyway? What possible gain or good reason could you see for doing this?
As Scoble says, “It’s ironic that you can import your Gmail address book into Facebook but you can’t export back out.” Facebook is the roach motel of Social Networks. You can check in, but just don’t try to check out again. Now Scoble is receiving emails from people who want to delete their entire presence from Facebook. All the Facebook wannabes will contact him and it will generally be like the Royal Court in medieval Europe as various courtesans seek to play this to their advantage.
These folks as well as Facebook users couldn’t hope for a better poster child to help unlock Facebook, and that means Facebook is stuck. At best they could agree to restore Scoble if he (and others) agree never to do it again. They will come of looking like lame lock-in artists if they pursue that path. The smarter move would be to announce they’re working on their own portal for downloading your social graph, restore Scoble, and warn that you will be suspended if you try illicit means to get at your data, but that eventually it will be made available to you via official channels.
Meanwhile, it’s a PR mess. Again. How many of these before real people decide Facebook is just not worth it? How long before the powers behind the throne at Facebook decide more adult supervision is needed to put an end to these growing pains?
Scoble wasn’t kidding when he wrote there would be more asshat posts in 2008 because, “Human beings are attracted to conflict as stories.” Maybe Facebook should hire Scoble as their Chief User Experience Officer. He seems to understand how people will react a little better than they do.
Nick Carr, among several others, writes that Scoble is wrong because he doesn’t own his data. Technically, they’re right. By the letter of the law, Facebook has a right to protect access to their servers according to how they’ve structured their user agreements. Scoble himself admits he was doing something that wasn’t legal in that context. The trouble is, there is right by the book and there is right in spirit. Scoble is right in spirit and that trumps the book in the public eye. Nick should know that. It’s just not smart business strategy for Facebook to carry on by the book and ignore public perception. The second problem I have with Carr’s post is that he raises another old chestnut: Facebook is just protecting its users who may not want you to be able to spread their information. Oh come on, Nick, if I give you my email and agree to call you a “friend”, what do I really expect from you? Scoble wasn’t doing anything I wouldn’t expect and welcome. He’s simply trying to organize his contacts across all the services he uses. What if he’d had a hard disk crash and lost his contact info from Outlook? I wouldn’t expect him to have to beg me to re-affirm our relationship, in fact I’d prefer he go get the lost information himself if he can. It’s another case of people not wanting to take responsibility. If I give you my email, it’s my responsibility to make sure you’re someone I know and not likely to do something untoward with it. If you wind up doing so anyway, I just won’t invite you the next time.