15 August 2007

Open social networks

A few weeks ago, I was brewing up a post on "open social networks", in which I was going to get all philosophical and rail against the "walled gardens" of online social networks, such as MySpace, Facebook, LiveJournal, Friendster, LinkedIn, etc., etc., where they try to reel you in and keep as much of your internet social experience as possible within their "walls", so you'll be looking at their ads. They do this by limiting interoperability. You can't be on Facebook and make friends with somebody on MySpace or LinkedIn. It's easy to make connections to folks' blogs, photos, videos, etc. within the walled garden, but not so easy to connect to these items if they're outside the garden on Blogger, Flickr, YouTube, etc. And you need to set up a different username and password - and type in all your gorram profile data - separately on each site. This sucks. I was all set to decry it.

But then, in the intervening time, I became a Facebook addict, which undermined, somewhat, the soapbox upon which I'd intended to stand. (It's fun! Join up! Be my Facebook friend!)

So, thankfully, iPete came to my rescue, sending me a link to an awesome BBC News article by internet law professor Michael Geist. Instead of getting all boorish and philosophical like I would have done, Geist makes the case pretty concisely and compellingly, in terms of self-interest:
The irony of the current generation of online social networks is that although their premise is leveraging the internet to connect people, their own lack of interconnectedness is stifling their potential.

Some services may believe that it is in their economic interest to stick to a walled garden approach; however, given the global divisions within the social networking world, the mix of language, user preferences, and network effects, it is unlikely that one or two services will capture the global marketplace. The better approach - for users and the sites themselves - would be to work towards a world of interoperable social networking
Read the whole article if you're interested in this sort of thing, but I hope the social networking corporate decision makers are listening to Michael Geist.

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