2007/08/07

Some thoughts on "Some Thoughts on Open Social Networks"

Dare Obasanjo:
"Content Hosted on the Site Not Viewable By the General Public and not Indexed by Search Engines:  As a user of Facebook, I consider this a feature not a bug."

Dare goes on to make some great points about situations where he's needed to put some access controls in place for some content.  I could equally make some points about situations where exposing certain content as globally as possible has opened up new opportunities and been a very positive thing for me.  After which, I think we'd both agree that it's important to be able to put users in control.
Dare: "Inability to Export My Content from the Social Network: This is something that geeks complain about ... danah boyd has pointed out in her research that many young users of social networking sites consider their profiles to be ephemeral ... For working professionals, things are a little different since they mayhave created content that has value outside the service (e.g.work-related blog postings related to their field of endeavor) soallowing data export in that context actually does serve a legitimateuser need."

It isn't just a data export problem, it's a reputation preservation problem too.  Basically, as soon as you want to keep your reputation (identity), you want to be able to keep your history.  It's not a problem for most younger users since they're experimenting with identities anyway.  Funny thing, though:  Younger users tend to get older.  At some point in the not so distant future that legitimate user need is going to be a majority user need.
Dare: "It is clear that a well-thought out API strategy that drives people toyour site while not restricting your users combined with a great userexperience on your website is a winning combination. Unfortunately,it's easier said than done."

+1.  Total agreement.
Dare: "Being able to Interact with People from Different Social Networks from Your Preferred Social Network: I'm on Facebook and my fiancée is on MySpace. Wouldn't it be great if we could friend each other and send private messages without both being on the same service?  It is likely that there is a lot of unvoiced demand for thisfunctionality but it likely won't happen anytime soon for businessreasons..."

Will there be a viable business model in meeting the demand that Dare identifies, one which is strong enough to disrupt business models dependent on a walled garden?  IM is certainly a cautionary tale, but there are some key differences between IM silos and social networking sites.  One is that social networking sites are of the Web in a way that IM is not -- specifically they thrive in a cross-dependent ecosystem of widgets, apps, snippets, feeds, and links.  It's possible that "cooptition" will be more prevalent than pure competition.  And it's quite possible for a social network to do violently antisocial things and drive people away as Friendster did, or simply have a hot competitor steal people away as Facebook is doing.  Facebook's very success argues against the idea that there will be a stable detente among competing social network systems.