American Politics

June 7, 2008

As many of you know – I have been visiting in the US now since the end of January (with a short stint in Europe in the middle). I am loving it. Particularly here in San Francisco and the Bay Area specifically. It’s an amazing place where amazing things are getting done every day.

But I have made an observation in my travels that I thought I would write about today.

American Politics is a fascinating spectacle. And I don’t just mean the politics of government, but the politics of business, community and culture as well. These patterns, trends and reactions are consistent in all sorts of other political interactions here.

The themes go something like this.

If you have been doing something for a long time and talk about very practical, operational things, then you must be good at whatever you do. You typically talk about being against something than for something else.

If you are new to the process and/or attract large crowds of new people, then you are interesting and inspirational but you surely can’t have any substance to your message. You typically talk about being for something rather than against something else.

These two positions are always seen as polar opposites. Many people seem to refuse the idea that someone who is new can also have substance. Or something that is experienced may actually need new blood and new ideas.

It’s a politics that fights not the ideas on their merits, but the way those ideas are derived, or who proposes them.

There’s also a tendency to focus on what ‘has worked’ rather than what ‘could work’ – or what has worked in other organizations or other structures outside the immediate scope of inquiry.

Universal Health care for example. Surely the government can’t look after our health right? They couldn’t even look after the victims of Katrina. Of course, if we look beyond the borders of the United States it’s clear that every other 1st world country does have Healthcare backed by the federal government and it works well to create a safety net for their people. It’s a simple observation that allows the conversation to move beyond ‘could it work’ to ‘how could we make it work for us’.

There’s often a lack of subtlety – a sense that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater rather than taking the good and building on it. Making what is work for us.

As I said, I love this country and my experience here has been amazing – I hope it continues in fact. But as always, I will continue to look for patterns and see if they can be improved. At least in my little corner of the world.

Some of this also comes down to an idea I posted on Twitter the other day – I think it explains some of my thinking in this area.

“We need to extend the time frame inside which we evaluate what is in our best interest”

Everyone acts in their best interest. It’s inevitable and irrefutable. But if you open the window from 1 month or 1 year to 5 or 10 years you realize that what’s actually in our personal best interest is actually in the best interest of many other people too.

But that’s a post for another day.

In the last couple of days data portability and the DataPortability project have been all over the headlines. That’s always a good thing for the cause of open standards and interoperability.

Each announcement has been a small and long-overdue step towards making social network profile data available to other sites in some sort of digestible way.

First, MySpace announced their ‘Data Availability’ push with a series of launch partners, and then, seemingly in response, Facebook announced ‘Facebook Connect’ which is an iteration on their existing APIs to allow 3rd parties to connect and access their user data.

Both moves have rightly been attributed as ‘Data Portability’ plays – but neither of them are true ‘DataPortability’ implementations… yet.

They are each proposing and implementing their own specific mechanisms, policies and technologies for moving the data around, and none of them are allowing true two way sync.

Over the coming months it will be our job, at the DataPortability project, to further refine and ratify the DataPortability Best Practices to provide a complete, end-to-end guide that Facebook, Myspace and others can follow. Once properly implemented, all applications on the web will essentially become part of a friction free inter-operable and two way data layer based on open standards.

It will be up to bloggers and other media outlets to keep the pressure on these players to continue to improve their offerings to achieve true compliance based on community recommendations made through the DataPortability project.

I look forward to the journey and further discussing these issues at the Internet Identity Workshop on Monday May 12 and the 2nd Data Sharing Summit on Thursday May 15.