Many corporations are outsourcing their community platforms
I’ve been talking to more and more companies that are creating their own corporate communities around their brand. For the most part, they lean on the SaaS models that the white label social network, collaboration, or even insight community vendors provide. While it certainly makes sense for marketers to lean on application service providers (it’s all setup, ready to roll, without the hassle of dealing with internal IT) and a decent to moderate price.
Avoid vendor lock in: own your data
One thing that I think is worth mentioning is that customers of these software providers need to protect themselves against vendor lock in, and the best way to do this is to make sure you own your data. The data is the ethos and soul of your community, it’s all the profile content, interaction content, uploaded media, and discussions.
Good for the industry
I’m hearing that most vendors have a clause that says that the client owns the data, but when you look deeper there may be vague descriptions or time limitations –which could really muck things up if a client wants to pull out.
Now why is this important for customers? It keeps them empowered to take their data and switch providers in the rare case a social networking vendor isn’t providing the right service or support.
What’s in it for community software vendors? It holds them at task to make sure they grow, take care of customer needs, and ensure that the relationship –and product roadmap continues to improve.
What should you own?
Customers should be able to pull their data (all of it) at any time with no questions asked, for a period as long as the forum has continued, or to receive periodical backups and exports perhaps monthly or longer. They should be able to get it at will, with no questions or withholdings by the vendor. If someone has a clause that has been written that meets these objectives, please leave a comment below, I’m no lawyer, so I won’t be creating the specific agreement content –but I know what it should meet.
Concerns and considerations
Of course, by owning the data doesn’t necessarily mean that you can quickly switch vendors, as the data will often be structured differently quite a bit of massaging from experts will need to occur, but you can sleep better at night knowing your more in control of what really matters –the ethos of the community.
If you’re a client (or vendor) in this situation, I’d like to hear about what policy you’ve all agreed upon.
Update: In one case, one client sent me an example of a vendor only offering the last 30 days of archived content. Only after they discussed it further with the vendor that they received the details. Vendors need to be more upfront about what this actually means.
Update: Chris Saad, one of the leaders of this group has responded to each one of the expectations that I listed out below. Please read his responses, as he’s open, direct, and taking leadership.
Last night, I attended the Mashable awards ceremony, and several people were talking about the Data Portability Working Group. It’s also being echod on blogs, and on techmeme. This is a collection of individuals from different part of the industry that are going to lead the charge for data, information, profiles (the most important part of a social network) will eventually be able to move from social network to social network at the control of users.
I support the Data Portability concept and the working group as I know it’s important for my data, the data of my friends and family, and for the industry to grow. With more opportunities for users to expand to other networks on the web, the industry will grow.
What I love about our industry is the high degree of collaboration, openness and trust, it’s truly unique you won’t find in many other industries. Sadly, the downside is that groups can form and nothing may ever come out of these except for a graphic badge on a blog and aging promises on blog posts. I’m sure this won’t be the case with the Data Portability Group.
Here’s what you/I/we should expect to see out of this very important industry governing board, which I fully support:
1) Charter document: This lists the groups purpose, who’s held accountable, and what we expect to see and goals
2) Needs: Problem definition document, what exactly is broken?
3) Plan: A strategy doc that outlines the next steps the group will take to fix the problem, dependencies, phases, and risks.
4) Calendar: Of regular meetings, and who’s assigned to each problem. Dates that indicate what will be done when.
5) Meeting minutes: A regularly published list of notes after each meeting that indicate the progress done by each member
6) Document: Body of standards, the rules, and the final output
7) Openness: Public announcements of progress of major milestones
8: Actual results: our identity portable, safe, managed and controlled by the owners.
Why should we hold this group accountable? As they are going to make decisions about our very own data, privacy, and identities, it’s important that not only we entrust them to make these important decisions, but to also ensure that work gets done from this working group.
Fortunately we’re already seeing the glimmers or progress as they have this public wiki, Google Group, Facebook group, and Twitter account, you can go there to see the progress being made.
Data Portability Working Group Contributors Include
We look forward to the results from this team who signed up to take responsibility, thank you industry contributors the work that you’ve agreed to undertake, in many cases these volunteers are doing this beyond their data job and will donate many extra hours with no extra pay –it’s passion.