Twitter has done something really remarkable: they have made the entire database of Tweets available to other companies. My favorite friendfeed is one of the beneficiaries of that “firehose” of data. You can watch my Tweets go from Twitter to friendfeed and back again. Oh, and friendfeed makes its firehose available to Twitter in return. You can see how this benefits both services. My liked items go from friendfeed to Twitter.
Now, what did Facebook do today? Well, it turned on an open stream API so that developers can put things into the stream over on Facebook. It also looks like developers can take some data off of the stream and use it in their own applications.
Loic Le Meur, CEO of Seesmic, has already shipped a version of Seesmic that does just that.
One big problem that Marshall Kirkpatrick, over at the ReadWriteWeb points out: Facebook is still keeping most of its users’ data private due to the privacy contract that it has made with its users. See, over on Twitter and friendfeed the bias for most user data is that it is public by default until you make it private (like, in friendfeed, you would have to open a room and make that explicitly private to be able to keep your data from going over to Twitter and over to Google. On Facebook it’s the opposite. If you use Facebook as designed your data only gets shown to your friends, not anyone else).
This is a HUGE difference between the openess of the Twitter/friendfeed model and the Facebook one.
Go see the comments on Marshall’s post. They are very telling about how poorly people understand what’s going on here and how they can articulate what they want.
The real elephant in the room is “where’s the money?”
The real money is in search. Yeah, I’m sure that someone at Facebook this afternoon will point out they are selling lots of display ads because they know their audience demographics pretty damn well (hint: Facebook knows EVERYTHING about who you are. I told it, for instance, that I’m a male 44-year-old democrat who loves skiing and photography, among other things).
But the REAL money has NOT shown up for Zuckerberg and crew yet. What’s that?
When I can ask Facebook “what sushi restaurants do my friends like?” ONLY THEN will you know that Facebook is getting close to the gold mine.
The thing is, Facebook doesn’t want to let you build that kind of business using its data.
THAT is reason #2 why Facebook isn’t going to turn on its real firehose for friendfeed to study, the way that Twitter has let friendfeed have access.
Reason #1, though, is that Zuckerberg hasn’t yet figured out how to change user expectations from having everything private by default to having everything public by default, the way Twitter and friendfeed work.
In an hour a group of us will be meeting with Facebook executives. If everything works out you’ll be able to follow along at http://live.twit.tv as part of a special Gillmor Gang at about 4 p.m. Pacific Time. I’ll definitely try to figure out how Facebook will change the default mode so that it can turn on the business social graph.
I also will find out if there’s a roadmap to opening up the data stream to include more data leakage outside of Facebook. If I were Zuckerberg I wouldn’t open that up until after I could change user expectations and get people to build a public instance of themselves. That could take a couple of years.
I wonder what you think of Facebook’s moves? Join us on the Gillmor Gang and over on friendfeed (we’re having a live chat about this post over on the beta friendfeed) and let’s see if we can learn something together about where Facebook is headed.
UPDATE: friendfeed cofounder Paul Buchheit just wrote this over on the live chat: “It’s not about defaults, it’s about ownership. On Facebook, you are not allowed to give other people access to your data, because your data belongs to Facebook. On FriendFeed or Twitter, you can choose to be public or private, but either way you can still access your data and do what you want with it.”