Stefan and I wrote an article entitled “The Future of Social Networks on the Internet: The Need for Semantics” for the IEEE Internet Computing magazine. It was published yesterday (1st November). You can read an extract and see a rendered copy below.
In the article, we describe how Jyri‘s idea of object-centered / object-oriented sociality not only provides meaning to social networks, but also defines an application area for the Semantic Web in terms of representation mechanisms for interconnecting people and objects across different social networks.
We also propose a social networking stack that would allow the reuse of one’s personal profile, social network connections and content-creation history (e.g, using FOAF and SIOC) across various sites and applications (there’s some obvious crossover with the OpenSocial People and Activities APIs here).
Anyway, here it is:
The Future of Social Networks on the Internet: The Need for Semantics
“I read somewhere that everybody on this planet is separated by only six other people. Six degrees of separation between us and everyone else on this planet. The President of the United States, a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names… It’s not just big names — it’s anyone. A native in a rain forest, a Tierra del Fuegan, an Eskimo. I am bound — you are bound — to everyone on this planet by a trail of six people.” — John Guare
Everyone on the Internet knows the buzzword social networking. Sites such as Friendster, Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn, Bebo, and MySpace, as well as content-sharing sites that also offer social networking functionality (including YouTube, Flickr, Upcoming, del.icio.us, Last.fm, and 43 Things) have captured the attention of millions of users and millions of dollars from venture capitalists. Compete.com states that, as of November 2006, the 10 most popular domains accounted for about 40 percent of all page views on the Web, and nearly half of those views were from the social networking services (SNSs) MySpace and Facebook.
SNSs usually offer the same basic functionalities: network of friends listings (showing a person’s “inner circle”), person surfing, private messaging, discussion forums or communities, events management, blogging, commenting (sometimes as endorsements on people’s profiles), and media uploading. With such features, SNSs demonstrate how the Internet continues to better connect people for various social and professional purposes. Yet, fundamental problems with today’s SNSs block their potential to access the full range of available content and networked people online. A possible solution is to build semantic social networking into the fabric of the next-generation Internet itself — interconnecting both content and people in meaningful ways.
I think this article is timely given the unveiling of OpenSocial these past few days (we managed to reference the then forthcoming API in time for a section about “Your Social Graph” on page 3). But as Uldis and Daniel Feygin pointed out on the SNP mailing list, while OpenSocial addresses social application portability and widget developers nicely, it seems to miss out on tackling the issues of social graph portability and cross-network identity links.
David Emery highlights this closed social network problem: “OpenSocial doesn’t solve this, but if it had it could be truly revolutionary; if Google had gone after opening up the social graph […] then Facebook would have become much more of an irrelevance – people could go to whatever site they wanted to use, and still preserve all the interactions with their friends (the bit that really matters).” Marc Canter says: “Me – I’m just sitting here, smiling and wondering about interop and whether all these platforms are really gonna open up their social graphs with unique identifiers. After waiting four years – who’s in a hurry?” And Bob Warfield says: “One of the biggest things will be portability of one’s social graph. Can I carry mine from one participating Social Network to the next? That’s a touchy business. […] Who will be first to write an app whose sole purpose is to carry your identity and Social Graph from one network to the next?” Of course, not everyone wants their graphs to be portable or linked together – there may be very good reasons for isolation, but if OpenSocial could allow people to choose to link or reuse their profile / connections across sites (or not), I think it would be a leap rather than a step in the right direction.