Social Networking 3.0

I just watched a panel discussion from the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit on the theme Social Networking 3.0 with Travis Katz (Senior Vice President of MySpace), Dustin Moskovitz (co founder of Facebook), Rich Rosenblatt (CEO of Demand Media), Gina Bianchini (CEO of Ning), Karl Jacob (CEO of Wallop).

Each of these companies is making some very interesting contributions in the social Networking Space. Each of their representatives believe that social networking is going to permeate more and more of our experience with everything. But even under the excellent questioning of Charlene Li, a senior analyst at Forrester Research, none of these players were able to admit the big problem confronting this space: namely that each of them is a silo network, which does not open onto the world.

There are a huge number of networks people belong to: I am a member of many different online groups, of which well over 30 mailing lists. None of these social networking sites is going to provide for each of these interests. This means the space will inevitably fragment. When confronted with this the panelists seemed to argue that people are happy to have different identities and don't want them to mix. Well is this really true? Not in my case, and not as much as would have to be true for that response to hold up. I use perhaps three different email addresses to communicate. I have a LinkedIn account and am getting people asking me to join their Facebook networks. But I can't link my identity from one to the other. One has to be a member of each one of these, and each on of them requires one to create a new identity.

This is really the business model AOL had when the web emerged. They owned people's identity and how they could look at the world. This satisfied many people, but it was the Openness of the web, and the way pages could link to one another that overwhelmed them in the end. With a simple web browser one could experience the freedom of the web at large, skipping from one web page to another by following links or with the help of search engines

It is clear therefore that something as central as identity cannot be put into a silo, that individuals need to control their identity, and that networking sites that are open will be a lot more interesting that those that are closed. What is true of networking is true of the data in each of these sites too. This is what Web 3.0 is about. Freeing up data from the silos. It's just an application of Metcalf's Law to the web of data.

Perhaps it is the realization of the inevitability of this that explains the intriguing move during the debate that "Social Networking" was not the real business of these companies. That it is something else they are offering. Indeed. What they are offering is a lot of convenience. If they open up their information - and information wants to be free - then this convenience they offer will continue to attract a lot of people.

But just as HTML and open web protocols won out, so OpenId and Semantic Web technologies, are burning to be put to use here.

In conclusion, the panel discussion on "Social Networking 3.0" was a lot more interesting by what was not said than by what was said, by the positioning of the players than by their position, by their refusing to see than by their vision. Not so surprising as this will require them to rewrite a lot of their business plans: it is not a comfortable position to have investors breathing down your neck. What separates these Web 2.0 players from Web 3.0 are the data silos that stop their customers from being able to link up to each other. Allow them to link up and together with their customers they will be a lot stronger against the big players that will soon turn up.


Further links on the web:


Sept 2008: I put together a slidecast, that describes this problem and how to solve it using semantic technologies and an example application to demonstrate it: "Building Secure, Open and Distributed Social Network Applications". This is a summary of my findings since this post was written.


Yes - the next big challenge of these companies is opening up, particularly identities. Plaxo is starting to do some interesting things... would be nice to see others open up. Must me hard when you dominate your niche and opening up would make it easier for customers to move. Still, if your QoS is good, why would people move?! Opening identities doesn't destroy their business model - simply changes the game a little.

Posted by Steven Livingstone on August 04, 2007 at 05:56 AM CEST #

Like others, I see the move away from catch-all SN's to a niche oriented mode. An individual will have a SN for family, work, school, hobbies/interest, friends, yada, yada. However, it is very time consuming and cumbersome to manage and keep current with all of those sites (aspects of our lives). Yes, there is a need for a way to link all of those together. The challenge seems to be that the current revenue model is primarily ad-supported. If a SN site encourages the user to leave their world for another site they lose control and important ad dollars.

Posted by Laurence Diamond on August 04, 2007 at 11:44 PM CEST #

If a SN site encourages the user to leave their world for another site they lose control and important ad dollars.
That did not harm the search engines. Google immediately redirect their users to other sites. This is what made them big. Now a networking site has less users, but neither does it have to redirect them immediately.

Posted by Henry Story on August 05, 2007 at 02:57 AM CEST #

Yes Laurence, I agree the niche is the next step for SN. And as Henry says, Google redirect their users, basically acting transparently. Surely both of these point to the idea that traditional SN's can provide the "connections" for niche applications.... alone they're not going to be able to write them all. Facebook has this idea internally, but imagine this in a completely distributed manner. There is of course still dollars in "owning" the user data.

Posted by Steven Livingstone on August 05, 2007 at 03:43 AM CEST #

Henry.... why doesn't Sun create a SN framework and expose as web services? Microsoft (BizTalk), Amazon (EC2, S3 etc) and so on are exposing platform style services.... seems with your interest it may be an opportunity for Sun :)

Posted by Steven Livingstone on August 05, 2007 at 03:49 AM CEST #

Hi Henry,

Nice blog.

We (Barnraiser) provide a GPL'ed group space that brings OpenID people together. You connect to it using your OpenID and get access to a group space with forum, blogs, wiki etc.

In the next few weeks we will be releasing a GPL'ed personal identity provider from which you can build your own decentralized social network.

The underlining issue here is ownership of your own Identity on the web. Identity is a combination of what I say about me and what others say about me. The latter part (reputation) comes from a social network, hence we at Barnraiser think it essential that an Open Identity standard (OpenID) also provide a decentralized social network.

Posted by tom calthrop on August 08, 2007 at 12:42 AM CEST #

Henry - thanks for your thoughts on this discussion. I too thought the panelists were limited by their situations. I hope we make significant strides in social networking as it applies to collective learning as we have in the media/entertainment space. I've blogged about this idea on my site:

Posted by Rick Wargo on August 25, 2007 at 11:30 AM CEST #

I can't wait to see what changes these social networking sites are going to do. It's time to add some cool new features.

Posted by social networking on August 26, 2007 at 09:25 PM CEST #

There is an active community on the google groups called "social network portability" that is looking at some of these problems

Posted by Henry Story on November 16, 2007 at 09:14 PM CET #

On you can link your online identities to each other.

Posted by Christel on December 27, 2007 at 05:11 AM CET #

I recently posted a description of Beatnik, the HyperData Address Book, that allows you to browse in an intuitive way the open social network of people owning foaf files. See:

Beatnik will also make it easy to publish foaf files to one's web server.

Does this exclude "social network sites" ? Not any more than my ability to publish photos on has stopped me from using flickr . Flickr is just more convenient.


Posted by Henry Story on December 27, 2007 at 05:46 AM CET #

Just the list of comments show that de-centralized social-networking is an actively evolving space.

Posted by Rajeev on May 13, 2009 at 07:09 AM CEST #

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