Social Networking – User-controlled Data

When I was involved in building a Social Networking web site, one of the things I wanted to provide to user’s was the ability to pack their suitcase, and move on.

I envisioned a simple HTML interface where a user could select individual information to move, or select all information.  With a simple click of the mouse the entire user data – including history, friends, photos, blog entries, favorites, tags, etc would be placed into a pre-defined format and saved locally on the user’s hard drive – where they could either use the data to later restore their account to it’s previous state, or to move their data to a completely different Social Networking site.

Imagine if you were a MySpace user for two years, and had a lot of history and content, but for some reason you were no longer happy at MySpace – you would simply “pack your suitcase” then delete your MySpace account.

Now if you wanted to move to a different Social Networking site, like PageFlake, for example, you could just create a PageFlake account and “unpack your suitcase“.  I envisioned it would be as easy as pointing at the local file and having the Web Service take care of the rest – importing whatever parts of your suitcase that were relevant to the new site.  If, for instance, the new site didn’t provide blogging capabilities the user would be notified, and that part of the data wouldn’t be imported.

If a standardized suitcase were developed then the next logical thing would be for a web site to manage this data, and keep it updated across several Social Networking sites, widgets, etc.  In effect the suitcase itself would feed changes via RSS to the various sites/widgets and/or applications the user allowed it to communicate with.

The bottom line is that it’s in everyone’s best interests to make it easy for users to manage, move, replicate or delete their data.


  1. Marc – continuing on – I didn’t answer all of your questions.

    I don’t think Social Networking is any different that traditional networking – they are both tools to help you keep, and build a foundation of people that an be helful to you, and that you can help. Doing it online makes it a bit more structured, and infinately more convenient – but it won’t ever replace those face to face “socials”. It will certainly help you build and maintain connections though.

    As far as branding, I’m not really focused on that – but there are a ton of great Public Relations blogs that do focus on that aspect of social networking (some of them read this blog, and I encourage them to share their favorite sites).

    Once I decided to go into consulting I knew I had to have a blog – it was the only cost-effective way for me to find my customers (or more accurately, for them to find me). I can’t afford advertising, but Google and other searches do a darned good job in letting people find me. In the last year I have signed three very good (in all senses of the word) customers because they stumbled across my blog.

    They certainly don’t agree with everything I post, but they all told me the same thing when I first talked to them, “I feel like I know you already”. That feeling came solely from reading my blog. If you read my blog, you DO know me. It really cuts down on the amount of time it takes fom the first conversation to a signed contract – because many of the questions a customer wouldn’t feel comfortable asking “a company” have already been answered by me, in my blog. Mostly through personal posts – not the more technical ones.

    Hope that helps!


  2. Marc – GREAT questions – and I can personally speak to a lot of them.

    First – social networking can work for you or against you when searching for jobs – basically it depends on what type of job it is, and what type of social networking site you are using. A site linke LinkedIn, whichi is fairly narrowly focused on work-relations is a good way to make and keep contacts that can help you find a job.

    Social networking sites like MySpace are more personal (usaully), and people tend to share more there.

    My son, a Senior in HS was warned by his counselors that colleges will probably look for any MySpace type pages to help them determine which candidates they would choose – my son deleted his online accounts. Better safe than sorry.

    As for blogs, that depends on what you write – my blog here is a fairly “open-kimono” view into my life and opinions. A lot of companies are not comfortable with that, and they choose not to work with me because they are concerned with negative association. I don’t blame them – I use four letter words, and am very pen in my feelings and beliefs.

    Other companies really like that about me – so for every door closed, I think at least one has opened.

    It’s a hard call to make, and it involves a lot of influencing factors – how private of a person are you, how thick is your skin, how vulnerable are you willing tobe, or how raw an you be.

    Business will have to figure all of this out at some point (and I bet courts get involved eventually as well).

    It is absolutely true though that ANY information you give to Social Networking sites might as well be posted on a Billboard in front of the local mall. There is no hiding it – search engines are too damn good.

    I personally throw caution to the wind and make the assumption that more good comes to me from sharing than bad. That’s certainly true so far!

    Thanks for the great comment!


  3. What you write makes a great deal of sense.

    I”ve heard of social networking, including that it is very good for landing jobs, but have never used it or tried it. I’m probably older than most people who get involved in social networking.

    I’ve heard of My Space but that is it.

    I’ve also read warnings that posting information on the web in places like My Space can work both ways. Such postings can get one a job, although I’ve also read warnings that employers not only read these sorts of sites, but that a person can get fired for what is posted on a social networ, or the information posted on a social network can deny him or her an otherwise good chance of getting a job. Is any of this true in your opinion and, if yes, what parts of it do you think are true? If no, why are these assertions NOT true, or are they partially true?

    What are your thoughts about the pros versus the cons when it comes to trying to get a job via social networking? Can social networking equal or surpass the proven ability of networking to get jobs, or is social networking the wave of the future?

    What about writing blogs and developing brand names? These two areas seem particularly popular today. What are your thoughts about these?


    Marc Levitt