Facebook wants to make members' data portable

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Facebook wants to make the data its members enter into the social network’s profiles portable, so that they can move that data to other online services if they want, the company’s CEO said Wednesday.

That Facebook doesn’t let them do this today is “a flaw in the system” and something the company wants to fix, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco.

“It’s the users’ data. We want to [make it portable.] That’s the goal,” he said during a keynote speech in which he fielded questions from moderator and conference chair John Battelle and attendees.

However, when pressed to provide a timetable for when Facebook might do this, Zuckerberg refrained from making a deadline commitment. “I don’t know,” he said.

The massive response from outside developers who have built, to date, about 6,000 applications for Facebook has been “incredibly humbling,” he said.

Because Facebook chose to open up the platform at an early stage of its development, instead of refining the program internally for several years, the company is learning as it goes along, he said.

That is partly the reason why the wording on the terms of service for developers may be read as giving too much power to Facebook over the third-party applications on its platform.

However, Zuckerberg said Facebook isn’t interested in “yanking” popular applications so that it can build them itself.

While Facebook has to reserve the right to build whatever application it deems core to its social network, it doesn’t plan to trample on its developers and steal their thunder.

“It wouldn’t be good for us if we did that,” he said.

Opened to external developers in May, the platform is seen by many as containing well-designed tools and offering developers generous revenue opportunities, despite the terms of service language that Battelle highlighted and that has concerned developers who are investing time and money in creating Facebook applications.

Still, Facebook has already had to step in and curb the behavior of some applications which, designed with self-promotion features intended to spur their adoption, annoyed users with unsolicited e-mails and intrusive message displays.

Zuckerberg said it may take many years for the Facebook platform to reach a level of maturity, and in the meantime, the company will work hard to continually improve and refine it.

He remained tight-lipped when asked about rumors that the company is in the latter stages of securing financing from a major Internet company, like Google or Microsoft.

“How’s the financing going?” Battelle asked him. “Very well. We’re almost all wrapped up,” Zuckerberg answered, declining further comment.

Facebook will likely more than double its staff of 300 to about 700 in the coming year, growth that Zuckerberg acknowledged is intense. Many of the new hires are referred by employees, he said.

Asked if Facebook is contemplating hiring an experienced CEO to run the company, as fast-growing startups often do, Zuckerberg said that the focus is on “developing a really good team,” in part because there aren’t many seasoned CEOs experienced in social networking.

Zuckerberg also suggested that the company may be developing its own advertising platform, but declined to offer details, keeping mum when asked if the ad platform will syndicate ads outside of the Facebook site, thus becoming a potential competitor to networks from Google, Yahoo and others.

Asked about the investigations from some U.S. attorneys general offices into Facebook’s operations and policies regarding objectionable content and the presence of sexual predators among its members, Zuckerberg said the social network gives users very granular control over what data they share, how they share it and with whom.

However, he acknowledged that he’s not very familiar with how the company complies with civil and criminal investigation subpoenas.

Founded in 2004, Facebook’s popularity has been ballooning for the past year or so. Its user ranks have increased to 47 million active users today from 12 million in December. Over half of its active members return to the site daily.

Web 2.0 Summit ends Friday.

This story, "Facebook wants to make members' data portable" was originally published by PCWorld.

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