One of the things that I don’t like about all these much hyped social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn and so on (don’t get me wrong I am a heavy user and addict of these myself) is that they are not really “social” in the sense that their users do not control their personal data and more importantly their “social graphs“.
The fact is that merely on the basis of these private contracts the service operators can more or less at will decide to terminate with immediate effect users access to the services. This also applies to access to data through APIs. The terms and conditions covering API will normally also allow the operator to shut down access with in effect no notice.
Yes, it might be that you will be able to get access to your raw data such as contact info of the people that are listed as friends in the social network. But all other information, in particular all the knowledge about your relation with your friends, will be lost. And you will have to rebuild these from scratch when you migrate to another services. This creates an unhelpful user lock-in.
So in my opinion these social networks cannot be considered open in any meaningful sense until users get more control over not only their raw data but also the metadata that make up their social graph.
I don’t know when we will see a succesful social network based on users’ full data control. I am sure that we will see such emerge in the extremely competitive private market for web 2.0 (maybe web 3.0) services. But until then a possible alternative (at least for people related to Copenhagen, Denmark) to Facebook and the likes might be Kbh.dk, a non-profit social network for everybody that live in or care about Copenhagen that will launch in May 2008.
Full disclosure: My law firm Bender von Haller Dragsted is advising Kbh.dk on certain legal aspects of the service.