Joakim Nygård Archive Linked About

Request For Open Social Networking

1 Nov 2007

I’ve been planning a post on what I see as the major problem with Facebook, MySpace and most other social networks: They are all walled gardens where the relations and content is kept inside the garden that is the specific site. Facebook suffers the most from this as their application interface is in effect creating a Facebook controlled internet within the internet and since profiles are only viewable by members. I have no doubt this will fail in the long run, much like AOL lost to the open nature of the web. (in spite of this Facebook was just valued at $15 billion!).

While refining my thoughts, I found a few other people also having trouble with Facebook’s closed world view. My idea was to outline the basic requirements for a social network and suggest the creation of a standard protocol for setting the social web free. I wanted to let the users be in control of their relations and content.

In many ways this would be a refinement of the APIs that many sites provide for their content. Flickr, Google and more all have APIs for interacting with the services they provide programatically. Basically, a social network is nothing more than a set of clever hyperlinks and automatic updates. I used to keep track of (online) friends by visiting their websites and reading emails. The Social API would be an open system for allowing connections between profiles on any server, allowing me to view latest blog posts, twitter updates, Flickr photos and more in a single place. Think RSS on steroids with access control.

In effect it would be an open source, distributed social network with content (dynamic hyperlinks in a way). It would need to be open source to be truly trustworthy and distributed for users to keep control of content.

Here’s a brief outline of the benefits:

  1. You own the domain name and choose the hosting provider.
  2. Content is placed with someone you trust (possibly even your own server), not some arbitrary website your friends signed up with.
  3. You decide who can see what and when.
  4. You’re always up to date on your network as updates to their content propagates to your server.

Anyway, I was preparing a list of requirements and functional outline when I read that Google is working on something that look very similar. They call it OpenSocial and according to a Macworld article their OpenSocial documentation page should be up very soon and I’ll be following this development closely.

With Google behind a social API, widespread adaption should be certain. Let’s just hope it really is open.