Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Portable Social Networks

Been thinking about this topic a lot lately...

In the wake of the tremendous success Facebook's application platform has had, many people have been wondering what the next "big" application platform will be. It seems like Facebook is doing for the web what Microsoft did for the desktop -- so in order to understand what might come next, we need to recognize why these companies were successful to begin with.

Facebook and Microsoft were successful because their platforms had 3 key characteristics:

1. Created an easy to use API (Application Programming Interface).
2. Opened up their system to anyone who wanted to build on it - no partnering necessary.
3. Created an effective distribution mechanism (Facebook really nailed this more than Microsoft ever did).

So what's next?

Many argue that the web itself is the next great application platform. However, I think it's clear that in order for this to happen there needs to be some type of social network weaved into the fabric of the web. That's the only way the crucial distribution component will work -- developers are going to need a frictionless mechanism for promoting and distributing their software.

Rockefeller had it right -- it didn't matter if you hit oil, if you couldn't distribute it then you couldn't make money. So he focused on distribution...and the rest is history.

So what could be done to make this vision of frictionless distribution occur on the web?

Well, the first thing we'd need is a portable social network - or a network that wasn't bound to a particular web site. It would require a standard to be developed for social networks, much like the standards that were developed around SMTP (e-mail), HTTP (web sites), FTP (files), etc.

Brian Oberkirch recently wrote one of the most compelling outlines I've seen for the necessary "ingredients" in a portable social network. Really amazing stuff there.

But I don't know how much of a reality this vision will become. OpenID has been around for a while now and even though more and more sites are becoming OpenID compatible, we're still not seeing a lot of traction.

I think we'll see the same when it comes to creating open social networks.

Maybe it would take the backing of a major internet company to get this off the ground, but then again Microsoft had tried pushing the Passport system for quite some time before raising the white flag last year.

We'll just have to wait and see, but if a distributed social networking platform were created and reached some level of considerable scale then I think we'd be seeing the advent of "Web 3.0" (I know, I hate using the version numbers for the web too).

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