Doing the right thing vs. doing the things that matter to users

So Ning just got a $500M valuation, see Techcrunch’s post Ning Worth Half A Billion Dollars and Marc Canter isn’t happy about it, so unhappy that he wrote 2 posts about it Ning earns $1.7 a year on paid subs and they’re worth HOW much?, Response to Jean Hughes Robert on his comment about Ning.

After digging into a bit, I learn that Marc also has a similar company to Ning, People Aggregator. You can get an overview of People Aggregator from a Techcrunch post almost 2 years old A look inside PeopleAggregator. Quoting from the post,

Here’s how it works. will be a fully functioning online social network in and of itself, but it will share information with other services through common identity standards for our profiles and through APIs (application programming interfaces) for our writing, multimedia and contacts.

Perhaps most important, PeopleAggregator will also provide new social networks with hosted software and later next month will offer downloads of the software for organizations who prefer to host it themselves. Licenses will be free for nonprofits and will cost commercial ventures a one-time sum after they successfully monetize the system.

What this means is that it will be easy to come and go from new social networks, instead of being locked in to one just because you’ve put the time and energy into using your account there. Instead of being at the mercy of one centralized database and service, if Canter’s vision succeeds then countless social networks will proliferate with unique styles and function but with interoperability.

It appears that Canter’s rant about Ning’s valuation might have something to do with People Aggregator not being as successful as Ning or Facebook. Quoting from this Valleywag post, Marc Canter tells Mark Zuckerberg how to run Facebook,

Oh, and Canter’s screed certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with Canter’s own also-ran social network, PeopleAggregator, which has attracted few users despite “doing the right thing.” The right thing, apparently, being “failing.” Sure. Canter can’t replicate the success of Facebook, and he can’t make the marketplace care about his values.

The reason why I am writing about this is that People Aggregator’s purpose is very relevant to the data portability effort. So relevant in fact it reads like the Data Portability manifesto. But yet why did it not catch on like Facebook or Ning? People Aggregator did all the right things WRT to making data portable whereas Facebook is primarily a walled-off social network and Ning, while being a white-label social network provider, isn’t nearly as open (even though they implemented OpenSocial) as People Aggregator.

My thoughts on why People Aggregator isn’t as successful is what I said in the title of this post “Doing the right thing vs. doing the things that matter to users”. In particular, Facebook and Ning did more of what matters to the users than People Aggregator. In the end, it’s the users that determine that success of a social network. For the most part, your average user, while inconvenienced by having to re-enter a lot of their profile and friends data on different social networks, aren’t deterred enough to not join those social sites. Bottom line, the benefits of the walled-off sites outweigh the pain of re-entering your profile and friends data which leads me to rethink one of my earlier posts on The many faces of Data Portability. I believe that ultimately, the data portability standards that matter are the ones that provide real and substantial values to the users rather than what is right from an ideology viewpoint.

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