People Data, The Future of the Internet

Jun 29, 2009 Michael Wurzer

In my recent post describing the MLS track at Inman Connect on August 6, I wrote that “the future of MLS has a lot more to do with people data than listing data.”  In fact, all the MLS sessions at Inman this year will touch on this movement in focus “from listing data to people data.”  Importantly, this trend isn’t just related to MLSs or real estate.

Wired recently posted an article describing the “full-blown battle” between Facebook and Google “over the future of the Internet.”  The article posits that Facebook is collecting a vast trove of data — people data — behind their walled garden, far away from Google’s search engines:

Hardly any of Wayne’s Facebook information turns up on a Google search, because all of it, along with similar details about the other 200 million Facebook users, exists on the social network’s roughly 40,000 servers. Together, this data comprises a mammoth amount of activity, almost a second Internet. By Facebook’s estimates, every month users share 4 billion pieces of information—news stories, status updates, birthday wishes, and so on. They also upload 850 million photos and 8 million videos. But anyone wanting to access that stuff must go through Facebook; the social network treats it all as proprietary data, largely shielding it from Google’s crawlers. Except for the mostly cursory information that users choose to make public, what happens on Facebook’s servers stays on Facebook’s servers. That represents a massive and fast-growing blind spot for Google, whose long-stated goal is to “organize the world’s information.”

In addition to having so much information tied up in Facebook, walled off from Google, the battle also is over how users identify themselves on the web:

Connect and Open Stream don’t just allow users to access their Facebook networks from anywhere online. They also help realize Facebook’s longtime vision of giving users a unique, Web-wide online profile. By linking Web activity to Facebook accounts, they begin to replace the largely anonymous “no one knows you’re a dog” version of online identity with one in which every action is tied to who users really are.

I’ve written before how important the identity issue is for MLSs.  Will MLSs step up to the plate and help their members establish an independent identity or will Google and Facebook become the standard for identity on the web for real estate professionals?

The introduction to the Wired article makes a better ending to this post, because it shows that these wars are just being waged now.  So much is yet to be decided, and that makes this an exciting time for everyone if we embrace the opportunity.

Today, the Google-Facebook rivalry isn’t just going strong, it has evolved into a full-blown battle over the future of the Internet—its structure, design, and utility. For the last decade or so, the Web has been defined by Google’s algorithms—rigorous and efficient equations that parse practically every byte of online activity to build a dispassionate atlas of the online world. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg envisions a more personalized, humanized Web, where our network of friends, colleagues, peers, and family is our primary source of information, just as it is offline. In Zuckerberg’s vision, users will query this “social graph” to find a doctor, the best camera, or someone to hire—rather than tapping the cold mathematics of a Google search. It is a complete rethinking of how we navigate the online world, one that places Facebook right at the center. In other words, right where Google is now.