Social Graphing

For a while I’ve had a niggling problem with social networking sites.

I’ve already set up my LinkedIn network and my Facebook friends, so why should I have to do it all again on every other site that has decided to go social on me?

When I heard the OpenSocial announcement last year, while I was F5ing the API URL, waiting to see the campfire video, I was imagining that the problem had been solved, by allowing any social networking site to share its social data with any other.

But the first incarnation of OpenSocial, actually the 0.7th as I write this, is more aimed at developers re-using code to make applications more portable, rather than data portability.

Then Plaxo released a LinkedIn sync feature which looked promising, but that was just two social sites, what about all the others?

Now it looks like Google has provided the solution, not as part of OpenSocial but with its new Social Graph API. Social data becomes portable simply by adding some XFN tags to the hyperlinks between your pages and your friends’ pages and your other pages (view the source of this page and search for rel=”me” to get the idea), then letting the Googlebot spider those links to work out the connections. Very simple and powerful. The internet is the platform.

This must upset Facebook, because the social data representing all those friend connections is a big part of their crown jewels. If Facebook changes profile pages to become publically available (or less revealing profile summaries, as LinkedIn has done), and adds some XFN tags, then that social data and the ad revenue extracted from it will start to trickle out onto the wider web. How long can Facebook resist?

Anyone could start to work out who knows who by using the Social Graph API. Reputable sites will put the decision of how to use that social data in the hands of the user. But there’s also a privacy risk here. Perhaps the answer to that is something along the lines of OpenId which puts the user firmly in control of how portable their identity data is.

My mind spins with the opportunities and challenges created by this great innovation. My favourite: combine social graph data portability with always-connected location-aware mobile devices (“phone”), and you can mashup the social landscape with the physical landscape you’re walking through.

Maybe that’s what Judge Dread’s helmet did.

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