The Coming Readers' Economy and Data Portability

This is a guest post by Mark Bertils.

At the end of last year one event signaled a huge shift in how the book publishing industry will do business. It’s not what you think. It was December’s launch of Facebook Connect. A land grab for user identities followed. The Web’s people economy is coming of age.

Facebook’s Squid Tries to Eat the Internet’s Whale

The Connect program wasn’t new in December. It was announced in May 2008. It isn’t even original. But it marks the coming-out party for Facebook’s social graph. Users are now free to come and go from Facebook’s walled garden. They can bring their Facebook-endorsed identity (and relationships) with them as they travel the Internet. It is a major development for the social Web. It is a further claim on the permanence and importance of these platforms. And it is the clearest marker yet that the social networking boom of the last five years has
beget a new Internet-wide folks-economy.

Seemingly overnight online user identity (here I mean the entire
Web — every site, every service) became a battleground between Web giants. Google and
are parrying. The OpenID
foundation is the Red Cross. Everyone else is taking sides. Identity politics has never been so interesting.

But this is not simply about portable identities and the single-sign-on Web. It is a fundamental shift in the Web economy. It is a bold stride toward relationship monetization — where user data
exchange becomes the most important transactional unit on the

Readers Are The Most Important Asset

This is pivotal for book publishers and other creators of digital goods.

It is no secret that infinitely copyable products aren’t worth very much, so naturally, value is moving up the food chain. As Softskull’s
Richard Nash recently wrote at the Harvard Business Publishing blog
, in the future, monetizing and organizing relationships — not products — will pay publishers’ rents.

To some degree this is happening already. O’Reilly Media have made conferences a large part of what they do. Harlequin’s on-line role is largely to connect like-minded readers. And the reader economy is
alive and well at the myriad of social networks for book lovers. But what of the other houses? How best to make this mindshift? How to redeploy the resources spent managing a supply chain of products to
manage a supply chain of peoples’ information?

BookDrop facilitates passing product info from one business to another. An analogue is needed for passing reader info between businesses. How is that going to happen? Who is going to do it?

Open Standards. Reader First.

The volunteers at are already asking these questions. The group champions the unimpeded movement of user data around the Web. That includes user identities
but it also extends beyond OpenID to include open address book standards, open calendar standards, and open standards for opinions, ratings and reviews. It is entirely grassroots and focuses on user-controlled, privacy-respecting data portability.

On their wiki, information specific to publishers and media organizations is thin but a need has been identified to standardize and provide guidance to publishers. The call is out for task-force volunteers to identify and report on the unique requirements within the generalized publishing domain.

To get the conversation started I have volunteered to be the interim chairman of the
media publishers’ dataportability task-force
. I am hoping interested parties will step forward to fill the ranks of this group. The end goal is to publish a report that encourages the distribution and
adoption of reader-friendly standards. If you, or someone you know, would interested in participating contact me at org.mark atgmail[.]com.

Mark Bertils is a grad student, reluctant technical writer, an aspiring technologist, and
a book industry orphan. He maintains a blog at

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