I just spent an hour doing some research in response to Sam Ruby's post Sousveillance where he wonders whether some of the descriptions of Facebook as a social graph roach motel (i.e. information about your relationships goes in, nothing comes out) is accurate. Sam writes

Dare seems to think that the root problem is oppression by the “man”.  In this case, a 23 year old.  Brad seems to view this as a technical problem.

I wonder what I wrote that gave that impression especially in the linked post. In that post, I was simply giving some advise about the kind of social problems you will face when treating unifying social graphs across different contexts and applications as a technical problem. If anyone is whining about oppression by Facebook, it would be Brad’s original manifesto which mentions the site by name over a dozen times.

Data point 1: one day when logging onto Facebook, I saw an offer to scan my AIM contacts and invite the ones that had Facebooks to be friends.  I unselected a few, and then clicked on submit.  Within hours, my network expanded greatly.  IM ids serve as useful foreign keys.

Like lots of popular social networking services, but not Windows Live Spaces, Facebook is fond of violating the terms of use of various email providers by screen scraping user address books and contact lists after collecting their log-in credentials.

However Facebook prevents this from being done to them by only showing email addresses as images which expire after a couple of minutes due to use of session keys. I once considered writing an application to import my Facebook contacts into Outlook but gave up once I realized I couldn’t find any free, off-the-shelf OCR APIs that I could use.

I did find an article on CodeProject about rolling your own OCR via neural networks which seems promising but I don't have the free time to mess with that right now. Maybe later in the year. Sam also writes

Data point 2: Facebook is a platform with an API.  If there is a need, it seems to me that one could develop an application using FQL to pull one’s friend list out of Facebook and share it externally.  The fact that I don’t know of such an application means one of four things is happening: (1) it exists, but I don’t know about it, (2) despite the alleged overwhelming demand for this feature, and obvious commercial opportunities it opens up, it hadn’t occurred to anyone, (3) I’m reading the documentation wrong, and it isn’t possible for applications to obtain access to one’s own Facebook ID for use as a foreign key, or (4) the demand simply isn’t there.

Or (5) the information returned by FQL about a user contains no contact information (no email address, no IM screen names, no telephone numbers, no street address)  so it is pretty useless as a way to utilize one’s friends list with applications besides Facebook since there is no way to cross-reference your friends using any personally identifiable association that would exist in another service.

When it comes to contact lists (i.e. the social graph), Facebook  is a roach motel. Lots of information about user relationships goes in but there’s no way for users or applications to get it out easily. Whenever an application like FacebookSync comes along which helps users do this, it is quickly shut down for violating their Terms of Use. Hypocrisy? Indeed.

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