Who owns the relationship between you and your friends on Facebook? Who owns the relationship between you and your followers on Twitter? Who owns the connections you have with people on LinkedIn? The answer, unfortunately, is the same for all three questions. Not you.
Justifying Napster back in the day was fun and fairly easy from a consumer point of view. I share my music with my friends all the time by making mix tapes and CDs. Napster allows me to share my music with many more people. Scale should have nothing to do with the simple logic that sharing music is OK. Of course, those who gave this argument didn’t understand the law. We never bought the music. We bought the rights to listen to the music one play at a time. We never had the rights to make a copy for others. The music was never ours.
The relationships we build on social networks don’t belong to us. We think they do but they don’t. They are owned by the platform we use to make those relationships. Facebook gives us the rights to connect with our friends through their site and approved third party sites. If we want to take our friends elsewhere to a different network, we can’t, because those relationships aren’t ours to take.
Communication with our friends, family, and the outside world through all these social platforms has become a service. It’s something we buy (usually with our eyeballs on ads). We, in essence, don’t own the rights to communicate in what has become a ubiquitous form of communication. We are paying for the rights to communicate.
This doesn’t bother most people as long as the communication isn’t hindered. Pressure is mounting, however, on these communication services to further monetize their platforms. Facebook requires brands to pay to reach the entire audience for their Facebook Page that they helped build. Twitter has Sponsored Tweets and cut off 3rd party developers so Twitter can own the relationship directly with the consumer (so to maximize monetization). Our communication is quickly being obstructed by those who own the relationships.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. No one here is evil. It’s just business. There should be, however, a concern amongst those who see what is happening that this is a problem. I wouldn’t pay for a Facebook or Twitter service. I would, however, pay for relationship management and ownership. I want to own my relationships and take them wherever I want. It may be too late for any company to do this (oAuth tried to do this with usernames and passwords and Facebook and Google Connect took over the opportunity there).
We need someone to step up, whether it’s government, industry alliances, or a brave company to liberate our relationships and set the record that the future of all digital relationships must be portable and fully owned by the user. I’m not optimistic.