January 03, 2008

Facebook cautionary tale

If you read Robert Scoble's blog you know about his problems with Facebook today.  He ran a script on Plaxo to import his Facebook friends.  Facebook's system detected the script and blocked his account on the basis that it violated the Facebook terms of service.  When he explained what happened they reinstated his account and asked him not to run such scripts in the future. 

Bottom line: Facebook locks up user data.  Not only do they not provide an API, they get really testy about outside software that reads the data.  With this attitude, I have serious doubts about whether Facebook can have a central role in our Internet Campus.

3 comments:

Nick Nicholaou said...

We've seen this attitude with many hosted database service providers-- including many hosted CMS service providers. We strongly believe you own your data and should be able to access it anytime you want in whatever form you want... which makes hosted solutions difficult to endorse.

Jeff Hook said...

Clif,

Just thought I'd chime in because I could not let nick's misconceptions be left unrefuted [maybe not a word, but should be :) ]. Fellowship Technologies believes the client should be able to access its data at any time, assuming they have paid their bill, because we agree it is the client's data. Just like other software vendors, our Intellectual Property (IP) is the application. We have numerous data extraction reports as well as an XML API developed so that our customers can build around Fellowship One. We are also working on a RESTful API that will be easier to use for developers who do not know XML. In fact, we help customers extract data all the time, including retrieval of their information at the normal termination of their contract.

I am aware that Church Community Builder (CCB) also has an API for integration purposes; ServiceU does as well for a portion of their solution. I would be interested to know what hosted database service providers my friend Nick is referring to.

However, a hosted ChMS is different than free software. The "free software" vendor may be looking for a captive user rather than developing a core platform for extended services. Or, in this case, Facebook may just be wanting to get its policies in place before it allows customers this added feature. I will let Facebook speak for itself.

Further commentary on Nick's comment - Nick has never been a fan of hosted solutions from the get go. Earlier, it was because the fear of Internet reliability - the Internet is now a common component of business systems for most Fortune 500 companies. Now it is who owns the data - all of my competitors that I am aware of do not refute the fact that the customer controls access to the data, gives it back as part of the termination of the contract and does not use people's personal data for its own business purposes. Did I miss something?

Grace to you,

jhook
CEO
Fellowship Technologies

Jeff Hook said...

Clif,

More information . . .

If you research the story, Facebook does not withhold your data. As a policy, they prevent you from using screen-scraping tools to extract data from their system. It appears that Scolbe was using Plaxo’s screen scraping tool to extract/import his contacts. Tools such as this can cause application and performance issues. Had Scolbe simply ran a manual export and import then his account would not have been disabled. Unfortunately, it was probably disabled by an automated system; it should have known who they were dealing with! Some things, automation just cannot do well! :)

Grace to you,

jhook