Dataportability: Did anyone ask the users? – Part 2

I got a bit of feedback on my previous post about dataportability. The general gist was that because you can move your contacts from one email system to another (or export them) then data portability is good.

I’m not sure I agree. I think that joining a new social application and automatically finding existing contacts on that system is functionality that is likely to cause problems for users.

Each social application is a different context and people use them in different ways. Mid last year I expressed my concerns about this on the Social Network Portability group like this:

Everyone’s heard the stories of how employers are checking out possible
employees on Facebook. This system will not only find them on
Facebook, but find their user id on that new Playboy social network
for college students (
). That’s not a good thing to do to

dahna boyd wrote about similar issues:

I lost control over my Facebook tonight. Or rather, the context got destroyed. For months, I’ve been ignoring most friend requests. Tonight, I gave up and accepted most of them. I have been facing the precise dilemma that I write about in my articles: what constitutes a “friend”? Where’s the line?


I know people generally believe that growth is nothing but candy-coated goodness. And while I hate using myself as an example (cuz I ain’t representative), I do feel the need to point out that context management is still unfun, especially for early adopters, just as it has been on every other social network site. It sucks for teens trying to balance mom and friends. It sucks for college students trying to have a social life and not piss off their profs. It sucks for 20-somethings trying to date and balance their boss’s presence.

Back then I was all over using bloom filters as a way of attempting to preserve people’s privacy. I’ve given that up now – it’s a nice hack but it doesn’t really fix anything.

Moving your email contacts between systems is fine for both parties because it’s the same context – email. Being linked to your boss on LinkedIn and having them automatically find you on a dating site you are both a member of is going to put a lot of users off.

2 thoughts on “Dataportability: Did anyone ask the users? – Part 2

  1. this issue really hit me in the face about halfway thru my ( podcast yesterday. Dave asked Biff (from ‘where is the RSS’ on his new ‘private / closed’ messaging platform for ‘real friends’. The answer is of course, there can never be any because of the perceived privacy outings from unintended context switches. I suspect a similar argument would apply around the data portability issues.

    bottom line – dont just asume everybody wants to be fully open all the time.

  2. I suspect the thing to do is having double-blind listing at import, so when you import the list of people you click the ones you would be ok being notified of your presence. When they join, they do the same. If and only if both parties agree would the automagic happen.

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