Opening a Closed Book

Facebook is an extraordinarily closed platform.

This, in itself, is a pretty neat thing to be able to say. Not too long ago, it wouldn’t’ve been considered close, because there wasn’t anything that was particularly open, in the sense we mean today. Now, however, with instant messaging being opened and federated with Jabber, nearly every social network publishing feeds of its users actions and friends, news filters like Digg and video networks like YouTube allowing remixing and story data to flow around, OpenID decentralizing authentication, and incredible conceptual startups like Heekya forming to let people take advantage of all this openness– it’s pretty disappointing that one of the largest social networks in the world is sitting on its hands, especially when all of these are sources from which Facebook has adopted features and ideas.

One particularly good example of this came with Facebook Connect– when an open standard, implemented by thousands of websites, and with over half a billion identities already in existence, existed for precisely the purpose they wanted– Facebook chose to implement a closed framework instead. And they did a really, really nice job– which does sort of dampen the blow, one must admit. Their user experience is something OpenID could (and indeed, must) learn from– but why couldn’t they have let their users flow across the web without forcing everyone into the Facebook box?

I’ve taken what I hope will be a first step in the other direction, though, and am releasing YourData– a Facebook application to let users take some control over their own data.

At the moment, it does something pretty simple: it queries Facebook to get a user’s status, and then publishes it to an RSS or Atom feed. Nothing too frightening here.

The advantage, though, is that users can now update their Facebook status, and show it on their blogs, share it with their friends, or do anything else they might like with it– features we take for granted with (for one example of many) Twitter. People with Action Streams might be interested to hear that I’ve built a plugin to add support for this new feed to the Action Streams platform– you can see it in action on my website, and download it at my software page.

Over time, I hope to add more features to it, allowing users to choose to export photos and more to every place they have on the web.

So, I hope you like it. You can install it at Send comments, suggestions, or criticism to me, either through the comments on this article, or through my contact page. Happy Openness!