I’d like to talk about the statement to the left, made by Brian Devine via Twitter yesterday morning. (I should mention that it caught my attention when it was forwarded by Jonathan Rick, who, in case you’re wondering, I met in person first and then connected with online.)
I completely agree with Brain: I do believe that Facebook and other online networks – loosely defined – such as LinkedIn and Google have become the contact management systems du jour.
The problem, and what worries me, is that we, as individuals, had full control of the data in our Rolodexes of yesteryear. We chose when to add, when to remove, when to edit contacts. And that Rolodex was ours to keep, save any unfortunate circumstances (I’m thinking natural disasters here), for as long as we wanted no matter where we went.
Now, we are at the mercy of these companies. For example, I use Google Contacts to stay in touch – by e-mail and phone – to friends, family, colleagues, and former classmates around the world. But let’s say that Google decided one day without warning to stop supporting that feature? I would be left with no numbers or emails addresses for any of my closest contacts. And, at least with Google Contacts, I am able to export all the data I’ve inputed into the system and take it to another provider or save it on my comptuer (or another location) for safekeeping.
Neither Facebook (nor LinkedIn nor MySpace) allow anything of the sort. (It should be noted that Facebook, in its infancy, did have this feature enabled. With its epic growth, however, I think Facebook thought that for privacy reasons, enabling users to exports the contact information of other users they connected to through the site could be dangerous.)
Where does that leave us? What happens if our account were to get hacked or accidentally deleted? I’m sure many of you shudder at the thought of losing all those connections (and pictures and videos and messages and everything else that’s now contained within the site).
When I said this all to Jonathan (in less than 140 characters!), he replied: “Since we all use Facebook voluntarily, if we disagree with the Terms Of Service, then we should stop“. He has a good point. BUT – because that’s where the majority of our contacts are active, we miss out by not participating in the service. So, we’re stuck in between a rock and a hard place since there’s not much we can do, is there?
I can’t offer a solution (other than to reiterate how important backing up and creating copies of such information truly is) but I do continue to hope that in this era of collaboration, Facebook as well as other services can find a balance between user privacy, a competitive advantage and allowing users to own and manipulate their data in a suitable manner.