Drawing the lines of ownership and understanding the responsibility of the custodian (or something like that, I couldn’t think of a sensible title)

Drawing the lines of ownership and understanding the responsibility of the custodian (or something like that, I couldn’t think of a sensible title)

I couldn’t help noticing that James Governor picked up on my post about tagged.com he states:

I am always a bit surprised by how willing people are to programmatically share their address book. I tend to be a lot more cautious with my network’s details because I don't feel I own them

He is referring to my comment about testing the use of gmail’s address book api. He brings up a few interesting considerations…

From the first start, I’ve always felt that the internet was a give-to-get sort of space. A place where without the assumption of innocence, collaboration couldn’t happen and the whole thing would fall apart.

In the early days of the net, smtp relays and dns servers were openly shared, the very principle of the network of networks relies on everybody freely relaying everybody else’s traffic.

There was in principle no built-in ring fencing, emails were like postcards and everybody just accepted the idea that this life-changing wonder called the internet was just so great it didn’t matter if a few bad guys misused stuff.

Well, we’ve come a long way… I use a geo-redundant file system, your postcard can now be encrypted via pgp and you can, if you really want to, access your webmail over ssl. Demon told me I couldn’t use their dns servers anymore when I was off their network and in most companies I work with, this blog is banned by aggressive security filtering.

So how does this relate to James’ comments? Well, I guess he’s right. As the custodian of my address book’s contents I have a responsibly to do my best to prevent the names and addresses therein from being inappropriately distributed.

And I do share his belief that just because these details are in my address book I don’t own them.

However, I need to believe that the original spirit of the network is still with us. It’s just too depressing to consider, if we’ve moved to some new and nastier thing then I need to find a different job:-( For the collaborative web to work, we have to assume that when a site offers an api mashup that it’s been done in the spirit of collaborative contribution and for the equal benefit of both the mashup’s creator and its users.

When we launched the lecture list we had to convince organisers that it was worth their while to go through the laborious process of posting their events. Most agreed that as well as the direct benefit to their organisations of a high Google placement, the presence of the lecture listings data online would be beneficial to all.

If sites like the Lecture List (or Etsy or Flickr or Linkedin) had to prove their trustworthiness before they had been populated, no users would ever give their contact details and it would be next to impossible to build online communities.

Now I’m not saying we should programmatically share our address books with everyone at the drop of a hat, but I do hope that the fear of spammers and phishers doesn’t grow to the point were it prevents the birth of community…

Oh, and if you can think of a sensible title for this post please do let me know.