by Anjney Midha:

On the warm Sunday evening of October 25th, 2009, a homesick and inspired adolescent in Singapore posted a 52 line poem on his Facebook profile, tagging several friends before downing a tall mug of hot chocolate and  hitting the bed. The following morning, he opened his inbox to find a slurry of comments from peers and Facebook friends, and one official email from a local magazine. The poem had, in the course of fourteen hours, travelled through cyberspace on Facebook home feeds until an intern at the Singaporean magazine had chanced upon it, and felt that the creative writing piece was perfect for their next issue. The magazine offered the teen a small fee to let them publish his poem and buy the exclusive publishing rights for the piece. “Sure”, the boy thought, “I own the poem and now you can have it”. What I didn’t know was that there was somebody else who owned my poem; Facebook.

Question Marks

Digital asset monetisation  and data ownership are long overdue question marks in the realm of social networking, a rapidly growing plane of existence that humanity is plugging into at lightspeed. The ability to control your virtual assets, units of information created by you,  is a fundamental privelege, nay, right, that is crucial to the future of human-human interaction in cyberspace. Writers, programmers, artists, comedians, physicists, coffee shop owners, and even your friendly neighborhood baker all have digital assets ranging from articles, software code, digital art, and journal papers to chocolate cake recipes, that possess a monetary value. Currently, there are few avenues where these digital assets are readily transactable on a common platform outside of the real world. What’s worse is that the owner of the single largest virtual network of people has decided to function as a classic monopoly, ensuring that they own everything you share on their network. That’s right; Facebook owns that brilliant set of jokes you came up with and shared online last Summer with your friends.

The problem is pressing, its impact is huge, and the solution; simple and elegant. The problem, which is a near hegemonic infringement of intellectual property, touches every single user of the blue and white network. It’s impact ranges from a simple annexation of one’s ideas ( if that can be called simple) to outright economic theft; the potential revenue that users lose collectively from not being able to control and monetise their digital assets runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars. To avoid this people have started taking tedious and painstaking measures, like setting up individual portfolio websites, PayPal and credit card servers that require longwinded authorization and passwords, unnecessarily complex cyber security and paying royalty to journals and databases to host their information. Worse, many digital assets go unpublished on the internet, for a lack of a smooth and intuitive interface allowing a user to control exactly what she wants to do with her asset, and turning that into an economic commodity easily.

The Workaround

Now for the solution; a network that basically says “Hey, this your stuff, you own it, and you can do whatever you want with it! And then, equally importantly, adds “Oh, and here’s a neat points based system where you can sell your assets for points, and exchange that for money. In the real world.” That’s right, it’s that simple (not to mention free for the user), yet still, the blue and white flag reigns supreme.

If the twin problems of data ownership and digital asset monetisation are not addressed, the world stands to lose a lot as the internet grows. Information is becoming the new universal asset, and an efficient and socially just way of trading this asset is necessary if we’re to continue progressing at the same rate we’ve enjoyed over the past decade. It’s a popular notion that the internet is a tool for absolute democracy; it frees us from the constraints of region, of discrimination and of unequal opportunity. Think again, because as large cyber firms and networks grow, harvesting our information under their terms and conditions, it isn’t hard to imagine a future where you simply have no say over  the recipe, software code or poem that you posted online. So you decide to take the other route, to never share it at all on the internet. To me, that doesn’t sound like freedom at all. And history shows that when our freedom is threatened, we make way for a revolution.

Get Your Fix

‘Sure’, I hear you say, ‘I want to control my content and be able to monetize it, but what can I do about it?’. For starters, you can swith over from Facebook to alternatives that are gaining increasing momentum in cyberspace. Some popular options include Altly, Diaspora and MyCube. Of these, MyCube seems to be the most promising, with a beta site that is clocking well over 22,500 users in it’s first few weeks. Based out of Singapore, this new green and white social network does exactly what Facebook will not; allow you to determine the privacy settings for all of your content, give you proprietary ownership of your content and then allow you to monetize it.

Critics are wary, pointing to the fact that monetizing social networking defeats the entire point of connecting online. That school claims we don’t sell poems to our friends in real life, so why whould we in the virtual world? The answer lies in the simple fact that ‘friends’ on our social network now acts as an umbrella for all sorts of relationships. From your childhood roomie in boarding school, to the internship manager at that firm you worked at last summer, your contacts online represent a whole host of diverse and complex relationships, and simply put, you should be able to continue the complexity of those relationships online. MyCube and it’s privacy empowering alternatives could be the answer to the fracas in the world of social media.

In the meantime, you could go ahead and learn how to disable Facebook’s automatic face recognition setting from this link “http://url2it.com/ffjl

( yup, FB just crossed another line) which rolled in a couple of days ago. Happy networking!

Image taken from here.

Anjney Midha is a guest writer for this month. When he isn’t trying to prove that existentialism is a farce, he is a web 2.0 enthusiast and enjoys eating Raspberry sorbet.