Should the New Mantra Be: "Free as in Data"?

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One example of the new data challenges is how it is and should be licensed, so that people can collaborate but they don't give away more rights than they should. When you contribute to a social network, what do you grant to the public and what do you keep? If you leave the social network, what data can you take with you? That's one reason why O'Reilly believes the licensing model a developer adopts is among one of the most important decisions. "What is the license of my tweets? I really don't know," he said.

This isn't limited only to the information we consciously post on social networks, said O'Reilly. We also have to think about data that isn't created explicitly by humans. For example, your cell phone is automatically recording GPS locations; who has the copyright on that information? "As more companies wake up to the realization that data is power, they will not hesitate to make great use of it," O'Reilly added.

"We talk too much about free software and not so much about freedom," said Hill. "The value and principle at stake here is user autonomy."

Open standards are just part of the solution, said the panelists. Suggested Identi.ca's Evan Prodromou, an open source version of Facebook might be more integrated and you could control your own social graph on a server you control, without influencing the site's functionality. Because, he said, right now "If Romeo is on Facebook and Juliet is on facebook they will never be able to be friends."

"The low barrier to entry in the federated web is much lower when the development system is there," said Prodromou. "It's really important to develop and attract this kind of developer ecosystem," he explained, such as with APIs. Identi.ca's API supports the Twitter API, he said, "So we have great buy-in by third party developers."

But this is all about rethinking structured data and the way it's shared. "I'd love the FOSS community to reinvent the address book," said O'Reilly. "That's really my social network." In an ideal world, he said, the address book would understand e-mail, instant messaging, microblogging, and use algorithms and metrics to notice who's more important because he responds faster to them. "A social application like Facebook should access my machine using my settings of sharing to private/friends-only; the network would be with me," he explained.

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