Well it least everywhere I look. The parts of the blogosphere I frequent daily have been busy lately talking about open social networks. Marc Canter has been leading the charge for a while now with insightful posts to his blog and his company, Broadband Mechanics‘ philosophy. Dare Obasanjo, Microsoft social networking guru posted a great overview of what social network openness is all about and some perspective on where it might be useful.
All this is happening at just the right time as I am working on the Nouncer API and making decisions about how open to make the service. Should it take a Facebook direction creating a closed community with open API, or an Amazon Web Services direction of an API open for integration into other existing and new systems. And of course there the everything in between.
I plan to attend the DataSharingSummit September 7-8 in Richmond, CA, and make Nouncer an early adopter of the ideas and proposals the conference will hopefully produce. The idea of openness fits perfectly with building a powerful platform. It is up to the people using the platform to decide how open they want their service to be. But as I wrote before, the architecture of the platform goes a long way to set the tone.
The components of an open social network I am focusing on are Identity, Content, and the Social Graph. Identity is the ability of end users to sign into the service using their choice of credentials, and their ability to use a single identity across multiple sites. Beside the great security benefit of having a single password known to a single authentication authority, and the convenience it brings, it also makes it easier to recognize users. How many times did you try to sign-up for an account with your usual user name only to find out it is taken, or that someone is not the person you thought they were.
Content openness is mostly about the ability of sharing your content with non-site members and taking it with you to other sites. If you are using a micro-blogging site such as Twitter for a long time, it is going to contain an amazing timeline of your life, something like a micro autobiography. It should belong to you and it should be something you can take with you.
Twitter, for example, makes your content public unless you desire otherwise, and with their simple API, other sites can import your content if you request it. But this is only part open. The next level is a community standard so that once implemented, any new site you go to can just go and grab the data without having to implement each API of each social network. RSS and Atom feeds allow you to do just that for text based content, but our online content is much richer than that.
And last, the Social Graph which is the most interesting of the three. The graph is your network of online relationships, the users you added to your social circle, your friends. Making the graph open is useful for being able to take it with you when going to another site (assuming many of your contacts are members of the new community), but more importantly, for linking into their profile on the other network. Why not be able to grant permission to your content on Facebook to your friends on LinkedIn? Or send them a message?
OpenID is a great solution for the Identity component, and with the use of extensions, the protocol will provide some support for the other two components. Protocols like OAuth will make the implementation of APIs easier and bring social networking openness closer to reality. My interest and contribution to this great quest is mostly from an implementer perspective. Needless to say I believe Nouncer is going to be a significant player in the emerging micro-blogging space, and if that happens, I plan for it to play a role in pushing openness into the corporate mainstream.
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