Is a Bill of Rights Enough?

One of yesterday’s big news in the blogosphere has been the Bill of Rights for Users of the Social Web which was authored by Joseph Smarr (Plaxo), Marc Canter (Broadband Mechanics), Michael Arrington (TechCrunch), and Robert Scoble (PodTech), certainly four respected individuals in the tech and blog world. The Bill is rather short and spot on:

We publicly assert that all users of the social web are entitled to certain fundamental rights, specifically:

  • Ownership of their own personal information, including:
  • o their own profile data
    o the list of people they are connected to
    o the activity stream of content they create;
  • Control of whether and how such personal information is shared with others; and
  • Freedom to grant persistent access to their personal information to trusted external sites.

Sites supporting these rights shall:

  • Allow their users to syndicate their own profile data, their friends list, and the data that’s shared with them via the service, using a persistent URL or API token and open data formats;
  • Allow their users to syndicate their own stream of activity outside the site;
  • Allow their users to link from their profile pages to external identifiers in a public way; and
  • Allow their users to discover who else they know is also on their site, using the same external identifiers made available for lookup within the service.

While I agree on each point made I suspect that the discussion on portable social networks is heading for the wrong direction. Now we have a bill, we have already seen Brad’s and David’s Thoughts on the Social Graph. What will be next? Don’t get me wrong, though; I applaud the efforts.

But a lot of the current discussion is focusing too much on technical issues. There is talk about OpenID, XFN, hCards, FOAF, nodes, feeds,… Probably just early adopters and geeks will understand it and therefore seem to be the target but they don’t have to be convinced. Is anyone trying to convince members of social networks, the millions of people registered with MySpace and Facebook? They should be the target because they have to demand those rights described in the bill.

Unfortunately I don’t have any practical solutions to offer but if we don’t convince a wide range of people on the internet all discussions and bill will be in vain.

14 thoughts on “Is a Bill of Rights Enough?”

  1. I totally agree but I think you are heading in the wrong direction too if you want to reach out to the users and try to open their eyes that open is better. People will automatically move when a more attractive value proposition comes along, sth. which is more valueable to them not because it is open, portable, ideologically on the good side. The current discussions solve problems for the wrong questions to ask, but they will lay the groundwork for sth. else to build upon. All guesswork of course, but I think in 2 years we all will be looking back and think ‘how could we have that not been seeing coming?’.

  2. @Markus: You probably have a point there. Nobody can force ideas down people’s throats. I totally agree that open, portable networks have to convince people by providing a better, more satisfying user experience. If it’s open but still crap to use no one will bother using it regularly.

    What do you mean with ‘slick comments’?

    @Frank: The article referred in the comment is especially interesting. People were proposing similar goals eight years ago already. Thanks for sharing that link. 🙂

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