Brad Fitzpatrick, the founder of LiveJournal, who recently left Six Apart for Google has published notes on what he's going to be working on moving forward. It is an interesting read entitled Brad's Thoughts on the Social Graph which contains the following excerpts

Currently if you're a new site that needs the social graph (e.g. to provide one fun & useful feature (e.g. where are your friends traveling and when?), then you face a much bigger problem then just implementing your main feature. You also have to have usernames, passwords (or hopefully you use OpenID instead), a way to invite friends, add/remove friends, and the list goes on. So generally you have to ask for email addresses too, requiring you to send out address verification emails, etc. Then lost username/password emails. etc, etc. If I had to declare the problem statement succinctly, it'd be: People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site., but also: Developing "Social Applications" is too much work.

Facebook's answer seems to be that the world should just all be Facebook apps.
1. Ultimately make the social graph a community asset, utilizing the data from all the different sites, but not depending on any company or organization as "the" central graph owner. 
  1. Establish a non-profit and open source software (with copyrights held by the non-profit) which collects, merges, and redistributes the graphs from all other social network sites into one global aggregated graph. This is then made available to other sites (or users) via both public APIs (for small/casual users) and downloadable data dumps, with an update stream / APIs, to get iterative updates to the graph (for larger users)
  1. The goal is not to replace Facebook. In fact, most people I've talked to love Facebook, just want a bit more of their already-public data to be more easily accessible, and want to mitigate site owners' fears about any single data/platform lock-in. Early talks with Facebook about participating in this project have been incredibly promising. 

It seems to me that Facebook is the new Microsoft in that there are now a significant amount of people who are either upset at the level of "lock-in" they have created or are just plain jealous of their "wealth" who have created dedicated efforts to break their hegemony. It'll be interesting watching this play out.

From my perspective, I'm skeptical of a lot of the talk about social network portability because the conversation rarely seems to be user centric. Usually it's creators of competing services who are angry about "lock-in" because they can't get a new user's contacts from another service and spam them to gain "viral growth" for their service. As for the various claims of social network overload only the power users and geeks who join a new social network service a month (WTF is Dopplr?) have this problem.

A real social network is a community and users don't change communities at the drop of a hat. What I find more interesting is being able to bridge these communities instead of worrying about the 1% of users who hop from community to community like crack addled humming birds skipping from flower to flower.

I'll put it this way, when it comes to email which is more important? The ability to send emails to people regardless of what email service or mail client they use or the ability to import your contact list from one free email service into another when you switch service providers?


Saturday, August 18, 2007 6:02:29 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Having a lot of friends who are musicians, I've seen the increasing administrative headaches they have with social networks.

It is hard for bands to ignore any network but the list is growing relentlessly and keeping them all current with common information such as tour dates, reviews, photos and mp3s is time-consuming and unnecessarily repetitive. And because I'm talking about typical bands, with very limited resources, the time scarce.

I don't know about social network portability in general, I can't really see a good use case for the average member and I can easily see reasons against it. However, there is a lot of redundancy in social networks and having a mechanism for addressing it makes sense in certain situations.

Let's face it, if a lot more sites had the latest music info (and other arts), it would raise the bar in general for social networking.

Nick Carr (not THAT Nick Carr)
Saturday, August 18, 2007 6:16:07 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
What you described has nothing to do with what people are calling "social network portability". Bands being able to import "friends lists" with thousands of fans when they move from MySpace to Bebo or Livejournal to Xanga doesn't solve the problem you describe.

If the major social network sites simply supported the existing blog posting or content editing APIs (e.g. MetaWeblog API, Atom Publishing Protocol, etc) then the bands wouldn't have the problems you describe because it would be trivial for them to use a single tool to keep their content fresh on all these sites.

The problem is that a lot of these social network sites are short sighted and would rather force people to come to the site for everything than create open APIs (e.g. whether MySpace provides RSS feeds or not is the stuff of urban legends let alone full APIs). Even the much lauded Facebook is really about creating a closed ecosystem than it is about enabling interacting with their service without using their website.
Saturday, August 18, 2007 6:47:54 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
>>I'm skeptical of... talk about social network portability because the conversation rarely seems to be user centric.

>>various claims of social network overload only the power users and geeks ...have this problem.

totally agree.

users may have the problem of forgotten passwords, but they don't have a burning desire for OpenID. until OpenID fashions a simple solution & UI for resolving forgotten passwords, they aren't the same market.

social networking portability is a solution to a problem which only marginally exists for power-tech-elite. it's not that big a problem for the average internet user, since they port themselves around pretty randomly anyay.

finally: "Open" is not Better. Better is Better:
Saturday, August 18, 2007 8:28:32 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Ummm, my apologies. After a closer reading of Brad's original post and looking further at the Microformat page on social network portability, I really don't have anything to add to your original post.

I was thinking of this at the conceptual level. For me, solving redundancy would be a practical start to "portability" because it would mean being able to participate in more networks more easily.

I agree with your email analogy. Changing email systems is a hassle but so are plenty of things (refinancing a home loan). That's why people consider the costs and benefits before switching.

There are plenty of interesting, practical problems to solve with social networking, strange to focus on one of such limited interest and negligible value...

Nick Carr (not THAT Nick Carr)
Saturday, August 18, 2007 8:47:04 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I generally agree that the absolute, centralized form of social network portability is a bad idea. "Why is it that every single social network community site makes you re-add all your friends?" asks the microformats wiki page you linked to, and the answer is that "friends" are not just friends. They're co-workers, they're family, they're neighbors. These relational databases deserve to be decentralized based on each application's specific nature.

That being said, making it easier to find people you already know on new websites is useful. I think one successful form of social network portability we currently see are the e-mail address book scanners that are cropping up everywhere. Through use of this on LinkedIn, I managed to find many people I already knew that I wouldn't have even thought would have made it onto that site. I prefer this type of API usage to any sort of OpenIDesque centralization.

The relatively uninspiring selection of Facebook Apps so far has convinced me that at least for the time being, sites with narrow purposes (but with open APIs) are ideal. But I digress...
Saturday, August 18, 2007 12:17:16 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
It's called Socialstream, they've been working on it with Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute with a first look in July
Saturday, August 18, 2007 4:48:58 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
I still can't believe that you listen to Timbaland. He's named after footwear for Christ's sake.
Hey Z
Sunday, August 19, 2007 6:48:15 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
1. I think there is no need for an organization managing social graphs. I believe the model in which various sites serve you the ability to define social data is just fine but they should provide access to that data via API.

Why should they? To attract more people. Perhaps if we liked such "open" sites more than others, site owners would sniff that might be a good way to beat their competitors - offering private and social data feeds. I am not talking about "imprting your contacts" into another and another site, what I mean is rather you could register at new site and point at several feeds to other sites where you have established some data about yourself. The new site would grab information from there and process it accoriding to its own social graph.

2. anyway such an organization could arise, one with much more power than Facebook.. perhaps Wikipedia Foundation might launch a project of social-portal? This could gain a huge momentum, I think. And certainly would be open!
Sunday, August 19, 2007 1:06:36 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Hi Dare...

I did a 1/2 hour podcast on this subject yesterday.

I apologize in advance for the length, but think you, and your readers, might find it interesting.
Sunday, August 19, 2007 10:29:19 PM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
The difference between email and social networks is that in email your directory is held by a different entity (eg Thunderbird) to your connection, This is not the case in Social Nets.
Monday, August 27, 2007 4:31:05 AM (GMT Daylight Time, UTC+01:00)
Skepticism shared - the general one-social-network-to-rule-them concept looks like a swampy quagmire to me, so I'm thrilled Google has decided to wade in.
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