My Likes Are My Property

by Mike Shea on 27 April 2010

One Minute Summary

Facebook's new "like" system is another method for Facebook to capitalize off of my attention. I don't mind this too much but I mind that I can't get my own micro-content back OUT of Facebook once I have given it over. It may seem like a binary bit of data we're giving out, but that bit of data, has VALUE and it's a value that we are giving away for free to a company that is profiting from it.

Think about how you spend the value of your attention and how you can keep that value in your own control. Do you really own your micro-content? How can you get it back?

Longer Pontification

There's a lot of articles written about the new "like" button that Facebook is spreading across the internets like the Spanish flu in 1918. Very soon, if not already, websites will have a "Like" button. When you click it, Facebook passes the page you liked to your friends on your status update. It can also track how many people liked it and share that as well.

Pretty benign, sure. Who really cares. It's a nice fast way to share what you're looking at, what you're enjoying with your friends. How can that be bad?

Of course there's a marketing component to this on Facebook's end. They can watch trends, focus product advertisements, and sell terabytes of marketing data to third parties. I'm not really bothered by that. They go through the trouble of building the infrastructure; let them have the data.

But I want it too. You see, even that little single "like" click is a piece of data I have created. It might not seem like much, but it's a piece of micro-content that I should own. For nuts like me who want to control and archive their data, that's a piece of data I would like to preserve. I want to know what I "liked" back ten years ago. I want to store that with every other bit of content I'm creating including blog posts, tweets, Flickr photos, even my Xbox 360 habits. This is my data and I want it.

This is where Facebook chaps my ass. They say they're running an "open" platform but there's nothing open about it. It's a one-way funnel into their massive databases with no ability for me to draw my data back out again.

People give Apple all sorts of shit for a closed proprietary platform. They probably deserve the reputation. My justification for embracing Apple stuff like I do is that at least my data are my own. This is becoming less and less true as I buy more TV shows from iTunes, but my music, my podcasts, my documents, my pictures; I can pull all of this out and stick it somewhere else. I can cram it onto a hard drive, seal it in an argon-filled titanium canister and bury it in my back yard for 10,000 years.

I can't do that with my Facebook stuff, though. There isn't a "get all your crap out of Facebook" button. There isn't an ability to share my data with other systems I might want to feed it to. The data ceases to become my own and instead becomes the property of Facebook. Again, most people probably don't care. They think Facebook will be around forever or they think their stuff isn't important so what do they care?

But I care.

I don't really have a solution for something like this. I use Ping.fm to post items instead of Facebook, so I can push to Twitter and Facebook. I have a web script that reaches out and pulls all my tweets and blogs and favorites and what-not and sticks them into a single flat HTML file. This can all be found at my autojournal site. It's not perfect. The data is all stripped from context and removed from the stream, but it's something.

We need to take ownership of our data again, however small it is. We need to stop just assuming sites know how to hold it and preserve it. I think it will take a major loss of data to wake people up to the situation. Flickr will have to explode or Gmail will have to purge a bunch of email before people realize how fragile this whole cloud thing is.

In the mean time, however, I won't be clicking on any "like" buttons. I'll be using a hodgepodge of Bitly and Ping.FM to let you know what I like. It's far from perfect but at least my data is still my own.

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