What is the future of Social Networks?

31 10 2007

So recently I “had to” add some new social networks to my growing list of accounts (e.g. this one) and it again started to annoy me quite a bit.

So what is wrong?

Basically I think it’s the fact that all those social networks out there (or at least most) are very much walled gardens. They surely give me all sorts of interaction possibilities with my friends and contacts but it’s all happening just on their site.

They model my social graph for me but it’s hidden on their site.

The let my friends send me messages but those are hidden on their site (although we have a quite well working messaging system called email. Why not at least include the message body in that email).

The let me write applications for their site but they again are hidden on their site and not portable anyway (might change with OpenSocial).

The have all my data but it’s hidden on their site.

So all of this is sort of annoying me plus the fact that nearly none of those sites utilize useful things like OpenID (IIRC some Ning representative at the AlwaysOn conference said that users don’t want OpenID. Hello?)

So what is the future here? I think I am getting more and more lazy with each new social network which wants my data. I might not try to find my friends anymore, I might not try to interact much with it beside that what might be very much useful for me.
I might not even respond to messages anymore because I might happen to have forgotten my password for this one and I am too lazy to go through that email process (which email was it again? Which was actually my account name?!?)

As long as you are not the top ten of those sites that’s probably bad for you.

So social networks need to open up. They need to give me my data back and might subscribe to my already existing data like my social graph which might be stored where I like it. That way those networks will get much more useful data.

One problem is of course also the advertising model most of the sites use. This of course is a main driving force for walled gardens. So it might be interesting to see if the open source community will come up with something better. There are already good attempts like NoseRub or even OpenID (maybe not open source but open standards).

Then there are also attempts on making virtual worlds more interoperable and from what I see so far esp. in the Second Life Grid Architecture Working Group is also promising for social networks in general. They think ahead of how to define identity in a more global way. Of course we have to see how much is left when the protocols are finished and of course many of the existing virtual worlds (actually all) are also walled gardens. But maybe there is hope 🙂

So what do you think about the future of social networks regarding openness? Will you have a future where virtual worlds will be part of that and where you have to define an avatar additionally to friends, groups and profile on every single website you want to visit or do you think you can reuse existing information and actually control it?

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3 responses

31 10 2007
Dirk Olbertz

You already mentioned NoseRub and I strongly believe in that approach: the user controls and defines his/her social network – if they want, on their own servers and they only allow service providers like flickr (providing image storage) and youtube (providing video storage) to access this social network.

But the user is the center of all that and ot the dozens of social networks out there which main feature is the social network itself: who knows whom. Nobody needs that at more than one place and mostly I want to have control over it.

1 11 2007

I attended your talk at Barcamp Cologne only partly and only partly looked at NoseRub itself (is the protocol itself actually documented somewhere) but from what I saw it looked very promising.

Of course it cannot solve all the problems because after all those services are walled gardens mostly. So I’d like to see some standard for messaging, for authentication, for managing my friends list and so on.

Where NoseRub is good in reading and keeping stuff up to date I’d also would like something which actually can write to these services (e.g. push my most recent social graph to them). And having a social graph in a central place would of course also help services like NoseRub to automate more stuff.

BTW, will you be at the Barcamp Berlin?

1 11 2007
Dirk Olbertz

Yes, I will be at BarCamp Berlin and will do a session about NoseRub.

Unfortuanetly, there is currenty no written “protocol”. I hope we can fix this real soon, so that people could write their NoseRub services in Ruby, Perl, Pyth, etc..

I think that pushing your social graph to a plattform would not be neccessary. Flickr does not need to know, that A and B are contacts. You need to know that and the privacy mechanism needs to know that, so A can determine, wether B should be able to access his/her photos.

This would be the ultimate goal.

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