Yahoo is apparently looking to release the social linking service del.icio.us into the wild (after never really finding a way to monetize it, I suspect, and finally deciding that Yahoo is not an Internet charity but in fact a business). Of course, since it’s the vessel for a great deal of social content, there’s obviously been some concern–if you had spent the last decade storing all your favorite web bookmarks in a cloud service, you’d be kind of upset if they were to suddenly go poof, I’m sure.
I’m not a big del.icio.us user. Back when I worked with a certain Gillmor, he raved something about del.icio.us and the “attention-economy” and what-not. I found it to be interesting when combined with other social media of the time (I think we called them “blogs” back then), and it demonstrated itself to be innovative enough that it gained a few copycats along the way. But I had this other way of sharing bookmarks with friends: by posting them to my blog and tagging them. That way, I owned the data, and it was searchable, and anyone who cared about what I thought could subscribe to my RSS feed or see it on my blog (or eventually on Facebook or Twitter). And I had permalinks and all that jazz. Oh, and I could do that for free with several blog platforms. But that wasn’t playing in the attention-stream, I was told. I guess I have attention deficit disorder or something.
Fast forward 10 years. We have so many cloud-based social media tugging at us, wanting us to connect to friends and share that del.icio.us has long been lost to most people in the din of Facebook this and Twitter that. Del.icio.us has evolved a little, but other services like StumbleUpon and Reddit. And, while some brave pioneers have hung around, the fickle masses have wandered on to other things.
No wonder Yahoo has gotten bored with del.icio.us and has labeled it “sunset”. It’s that attention thing again, or a lack of it–people have stopped paying attention to what people pay attention to on del.icio.us and would now rather pay attention to what their friends are doing in Farmville. And since del.ico.us lives at the whim of a provider, with no terms of service and no export tool other than code-scraping, there’s the potential for all the attention that’s been spent on curating del.icio.us — curating, the latest buzzword for collecting links –there’s the potential that it’s all been in vain, for naught, and bound for the bit bucket in the cloud.
Of course, that’s the whole problem with magical cloud services, anyway. There may be terms of service out there, but there is not a whole lot that looks like a binding contract between cloud provider and user. I could wake up tomorrow and find that Yahoo has lost interest in Flickr, and all my photos from the last 5 years have evaporated into so many purged pixels with no contractual recourse than, say, a refund on what’s left of my annual pro fee. Google could turn off my mail. Facebook could declare me dead and purge my page. Like the Maryland Lottery, it could happen to you.
Do I have your attention?
At least providers like WordPress let me back up and export my site, and I have the code to run the blog someplace else, where I own (or at least lease) the server. But if the cloud is going to be both a metaphor for where applications live and a description of the substantiveness of legal protection that we have as users of the thing from having our digital works exist or not at the whims of questionable business models, then we need to have a way to own our data and move it and replicate it to cover our pixilated assets.
Wikileaks adds new focus to that — it is a model of what data portability should be. Government siezes your URL because you pissed them off? No problem! The Bolivians will gladly give you a domain, and you can mirror–because YOU own the data, and can move it or duplicate it at will. Sure, it costs something — money, in WikiLeaks’ case, to pay for hosting and domains and lawyers to fight extradition. In your case, it might cost sharing some of your data, and maybe your…attention. To advertisements, or to other people’s sites, or whatever.
We pay sites like Facebook with our attention and our data. Mark Z. and his crew keep our attention with new features, and extract value from our data and our ad views to pay the rent. We should have the ability to take our social network data and replicate it elsewhere, both while we’re using Facebook and when we leave, because it’s part of our identity. There’s phone number portability by law… why not data portability?