The Future of Social Networks: Building a WAN to Connect the LANs

Like other web geeks, I'm often asked by friends and acquaintances, "Are you on __________?" <-- insert the "current" social network here

My reply is usually a groggy "Huh?" So no, I don't have a Facebook or MySpace account; and yes, I'm probably missing out on something, and I'm okay with that for now.

The bottom line is that I don't have much time to look for and create social network connections. I work nine to five, try to keep up with my family, and only have time to participate in a few targeted social networks, including LinkedIn and I initially joined LinkedIn out of curiosity and was rewarded with an opportunity that brought me to my current job. I joined because of my love of music and tendency to go on about what I'm listening to with friends.

I might be more willing to sign up for less targeted social networks if...

  1. I could easily connect to, or be found by, friends and colleagues when I sign up.
  2. I could easily take my information stored on each site wherever I go.
  3. I could keep the same username on each site.

I can't speak from experience since I'm not a Facebook or MySpace user, but everything I've read says that #1 isn't truly happening now. Of course, the core feature of almost all social networking sites is the ability to connect with other members who share similar interests, belong to the same groups, go/went to the same schools, or worked for the same employers. Most sites allow you to re-enter this information to manually browse for connections, but wouldn't it be cool if social networks were able to recognize who you are as soon as you walk in the door?! (/me starts to get giddy with anticipation)

As for #2, there are a few projects emerging with the goal of enabling us to take more control of our media, writings, tags, and profiles. is one example of this effort. Their goal is to provide software that will collect and merge your data from several social networking sites. The project certainly has its work cut out since its focus is building a client that understands each of the open social network's APIs.

The most interesting component in support of #3 is OpenID. Over the past few years, OpenID has really begun to catch on in the blogging community and on a few sites including Digg and LiveJournal. Bloggers running the latest versions of Movable Type, Wordpress, and Drupal have plugins or native OpenID support built-in. But the big players, as usual, aren't on the OpenID bandwagon, at least not yet.

So with this current state of social networks in mind, take a look at Brad Fitzpatrick's and David Recordon's recent post: "Thoughts on the Social Graph." I read this post without knowing who Brad and David were, but I wasn't surprised to learn about their accomplishments and connection to OpenID. They have succinctly stated the current problem, outlined a plan of action, and anticipated the key challenges.

I plan on monitoring their effort's progress closely and experimenting with a few of the existing pieces of the social graph puzzle, specifically OpenID and microformats. So read Brad's post, check out the other approaches mentioned, and maybe some day soon I'll see you on __________.

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