Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Google's Social Graph API

Last week Google released their Social Graph API, which, if implemented on a site would essentially allow a user on a new social network to more easily connect with existing friends. It basically attempts to solve the problem of slow growth for a user who would otherwise have to individually seek out friends and recreate their friends list every time they joined a new network. We've all been there.

2008 does indeed seem to be the year of the user, with the DataPortability movement taking hold and OpenID (and similar applications) being adopted by large web properties. Google's API is just another piece of the user-centric pie, and one that moves us a little further toward the "web as platform" promise.

What I have found interesting in the last week is that there are two camps forming around this API. On the one hand, you have proponents such as Tim O'Reilly and on the other hand, you have folks such as danah boyd concerned about privacy and exposure. I greatly respect these folks and I understand the concerns, but I am also surprised by the trepidation.

As with any new technology, this API can certainly be used for good or for evil. And as with any user-centric experience, the user should be able to opt out. But all in all, this API empowers data--and it empowers data that exists publicly. We are not victims here. If we have participated online or connected with others, there are consequences to this (I personally giggle a little when I look at my Usenet entries a la 1995, now archived by Google). But that information was put out there by me. I have the choice of what to expose, unlike cookies which just track my behavior.

I'd like to see us give this API a chance. I get the fears and concerns, but it's nothing we haven't tackled before. If this is a user's web, then let's empower the users and have faith that they will win out in the end.

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