The latest “shiny social object”: an open/controllable social network?

Poster inside a Facebook office

Well, I’ve been taking a lot of shots in the past few weeks for always covering the latest shiny social object. You know, first it was Twitter. Then Jaiku. Then Facebook. Pownce. On and on.

The critics say that either I’m late to the game, like with Facebook, or that I’m just too scattered and not looking for real value. Or that I don’t stay on one thing long enough to learn it well and add real value to my writings.

Fair enough. Although one thing I’d like to clear up. When I yammer on endlessly about Facebook that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped using any of the others. Twitter, for instance, is just a constant part of my life now.

Anyway, last night I was at the Facebook party aka “Lunch 2.0.” I met Mark Zuckerberg and his sister, Randi, and a ton of Facebook employees and executives. It is one of those parties that in about five years we’ll all be looking back on as a major inflection point in the valley. I stayed until the very end. In fact, even after the party ended a small group of us hang outside of Facebook’s offices and kept talking about what is going to happen in social networking.

One of the guys was John McCrea, vice president of marketing for Plaxo.

He told me that on Monday Plaxo i sgoing to turn on a new version. Ahh, a new “shiny social object.”

But then he explained why we should care: Plaxo is going to open up a new social network that’s both open as well as controllable. Translation: Plaxo is making a play for Facebook.

First, let’s go back to Facebook. Why does everyone say it’s a “walled garden?” Because you can’t get to data stored on Facebook unless you’re a Facebook member. Two days ago I did a video for Chris Pirillo on Facebook. Chris instantly got excited and wanted to share that with his blog’s readers. But he couldn’t. That video is locked inside Facebook’s walled garden. If you don’t have a key (a Facebook account) you can’t see it.

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that gets rid of the walled garden.

Why did I say a couple of weeks ago that Facebook is a “data roach motel?” Because I can put all sorts of information about myself into Facebook (I could, for instance, tell you that I like “Daft Punk.” But, do I own that data? Can I get it out of Facebook? No).

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that lets me own my own data and take it out of Plaxo and put it on other social networks.

Finally, I’ve been getting a few complaints about what I’ve been doing with Facebook. By turning Facebook into a professional networking tool I’m causing problems for people who saw it as a social tool to keep in touch with their college friends. See, Facebook for the first three years of its existence was mostly a tool for college kids to pass photos and other funny things around. Now, if you have photos of your frat party at college do you really want your new boss and coworkers to see those? Probably not.

But Facebook isn’t controllable. You can’t really have two groups of friends. One group that sees your drunken college frat photos and another group that sees you making presentations to your board of directors.

John told me that on Monday Plaxo will come out with a social network that lets me control which groups of friends (or family) that can see certain items.

OK, sounds like Plaxo is going to kill Facebook and bring down Facebook’s value by a few billion dollars. The bubble 2.0 will end. Zuckerberg will drag his tail away from the valley defeated. Etc etc etc. Right?

It’s not going to happen. Here’s why. It’s too late and the walled garden will keep people locked in.


Sorry, Facebook already has momentum and a coolness about it that Plaxo doesn’t exude. I don’t really know how to explain the coolness without sounding really idiotic and goofy. That’s part of the 20-something vibe that Facebook has going for it right now. Oh, here’s a photo of me looking at the artwork in the Facebook offices. That might explain a little bit about it. There’s lots of other photos from the event last night here.

But it’s there and can’t be ignored. If John could explain to me how he’s going to get the world’s college students to look away from Facebook and toward something else maybe I’d go along with this “more open and controllable” Plaxo. My head is telling me that Plaxo is the way to go but my emotion tells me that Facebook is more fun.

The other thing is that BECAUSE of Facebook’s “closed” nature I’m not likely to leave it anytime soon. Why? Because if Facebook has 10% more content than the other networks do (which it will have because of the momentum that Facebook has today) that the more “open” networks will always seem lame in comparison.

But, on Monday I’ll try out the new Plaxo. I’m into “shiny social objects” and will report to you the pros and the cons. The problem, though, is that even if I get really excited about it my email is demonstrating that many of the world won’t be listening and won’t care.

What do you think?

After I get up this morning I’ll film a video explaining more of my thoughts and I’ll put that on my Kyte channel. For now Nokia’s CTO left me a little message there. I’ll do more stuff from the Always On conference today.

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