MySpace Builds a Bigger Walled Garden

MySpace today launched announced a data availability initiative that will allow users to opt in to sharing their MySpace information on a variety of partner sites. While not exactly complete data portability (the social networking company also said it was joining the Data Portability Project), it’s a start.

MySpace is launching its data availability efforts with Yahoo, eBay, Twitter and Photobucket some time within the next several weeks. Steve Pearman, SVP of product strategy at MySpace, says other partners will be able to join “in a few weeks,” after agreeing to some basic terms and conditions aimed at preventing user data from being abused. I asked if someone could port their MySpace info onto their Facebook page if Facebook asked to join, to which Pearman responded by saying he wouldn’t want to tell anyone where they could or could not port their data.

Users can go to their MySpace page and access controls that will allow them to instantly opt out of sharing their data with sites if they decide to change their minds. In time, users will be able to select which aspects of their MySpace information they want to share with sites, but for now it’s an all-or-nothing decision.

Update: So after sitting in on the conference call, I get the idea that MySpace wants to be the “Intel Inside” of the social web. However, unlike the easy-to-monetize business of selling hardware, the business of controlling someone’s Internet persona and profile doesn’t have an obvious monetization strategy.

When asked how this data availability initiative will help MySpace, CEO and cof-ounder Chris DeWolfe said it falls in line with MySpace’s core principals to create a more open and social Internet, that it “takes the notion of third-party widgets and OpenSocial to the next level.”

Pearman responded to a direct question about monetization by talking about how a rising tide lifts all boats, but didn’t provide any detail as to how MySpace can sell more ads, especially if it’s sending its users to other parts of the web while making it easy for others to avoid joining the social networking site.

This morning, News Corp. said revenue dropped for MySpace and its Fox Interactive Media division because it’s hard to sell advertising on social networks. Problems include too many players going after advertisers, which is driving the CPMs down; the fact that most people aren’t going to the site with a mindset appropriate for viewing ads; and figuring out appropriate metrics to measure the success of online campaigns.

Monetization may be murky right now, but I do think controlling someone’s digital persona is worth something. And make no mistake — MySpace is still controlling this data, even as it gives users the ability to ship it across the web. Unless a site actually agrees to MySpace’s terms and conditions, a user can’t port their data to it, leaving the decision about where data goes in MySpace’s hands rather than the user’s. That control may derive from benign intents to prevent the abuse of user data, but users are still locked into MySpace’s walled garden.

So, the question for monetizing that data will be whether or not MySpace can use it in a way that makes it money without hacking off privacy advocates.