Social Data Portability: Will It Affect Advertising?

Suddenly all the social networking majors are racing to see who can break down their own walls the fastest — and in the case of Google, to make the switch from sheet rock to plumbing, if you’ll forgive an overstretched metaphor.

Shortly after News Corp. announced its data portability initiative last week, Facebook chimed in with its own proposal to give users control over their identities. Called Facebook Connect, the initiative will launch in the next few weeks and allow Facebook users to carry their basic profile information, friends and privacy settings around with them. “We believe the next evolution of data portability is about much more than data,” the company stated in a blog post Friday. “It’s about giving users the ability to take their identity and friends with them around the Web, while being able to trust that their information is always up to date and always protected by their privacy settings.”

Google meanwhile announced Friend Connect, a project to help any site owner add social capabilities. According to Google, visitors to any site using the service “will be able to see, invite, and interact with new friends, or, using secure authorization APIs, with existing friends from social sites on the web, including Facebook, Google Talk, hi5, orkut, Plaxo, and more.” MySpace was not mentioned in the announcement, which is odd given it’s part of Google’s Open Social platform geared toward third party app developers.

What do these data portability initiatives mean for advertising? That may depend on who wins the right to host and manage large numbers of consumer profiles. If it’s a private entity such as Google, MySpace or Facebook, profile portability will lead to new forms of contextual and behavioral targeting. For instance, imagine Facebook’s Beacon and Social Ads programs reinvented to offer alerts and ads that take into account your interactions on thousands of sites. On the other hand, if a non-profit such as the Mozilla Foundation wins the right to manage your data in this fashion, such an outcome would seem less likely.

On another level, marketers who want to add more interactivity and social features on their Web sites may be able to work with Friend Connect to achieve that. Ning and MyBlogLog offer different services along similar lines. The former is a white label social networking platform. The latter is a system for tracking and publishing profiles of your site visitors, and allowing them to interact with each other.

Related reading