Social Networking 3.0
By bblfish on Aug 04, 2007
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.
NotesFurther links on the web:
- Watch the event online at the AlwaysOn site.
- Michael J. Miller has summarized the discussion.
- Denise Howell has a good write up in her article "Social networks: what goes out, what goes in". She makes some of the same points I make here.
- Wired gets in on the act with "Slap in the Facebook: It's Time for Social Networks to Open Up", except they completely miss the Semantic Web : foaf and openid, what an explosive combination!.
- There is work going on in extracting data from these silos into rdf. A couple I have noticed recently:
- Some companies/software doing the right thing
- Scoble mentions Plaxo in a very recent post of his entitled "The latest “shiny social object”: an open/controllable social network?"
- People Aggregator gives you openid + foaf
- Barnraiser gives you software to implement openid I think.
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.