Archive for August, 2007

Scoble’s column on microblogging (featuring Twitter, Jaiku, Pownce, and Facebook) from the latest issue of FastCompany is up online. It’s titled "The Next Email."

His conclusion:

"If we revisit this conversation again in three years, I suspect that
we’ll have found all sorts of little uses for these services, and
they’ll simply become what email is today: something we must do just to
participate in the heartbeat of business."

Recently more people have been tossing around the idea that an open social network enabler could be the Next Big Thing.

John Battelle wrote that

“PageRank was based on a big graph: the links that make up the web. The next breakthrough, many argue, will be based on the social graph, the links between us all.”

Earlier this spring David Sacks posted on TechCrunch about portals moving “from browse to search to share.

Little surprise then that one of the more interesting (and well attended) sessions at this weekend’s BarCampBlock was Brad Fitzpatrick (LiveJournal founder who reportedly has joined Google), David Recordon (OpenID, now at 6A), and Joseph Smarr (Plaxo) on the open social graph.

“Social graph,” for the record, is what  Facebook calls the map of how their users are connected to each other. Brad has been working on a distributed alternative for a while and he recently jelled his ideas together into a well thought-out essay.

(If you haven’t yet read the piece, you should go read it now).

The problem, in short, is the lack of a way to connect people across services. Anyone who has signed up to more than a single Web service will recognize the issue.

Web services should be able to freely combine. But as it stands each Web service has to implement their own user accounts and friend policy (the social graph). We want simple services that do just one thing really well – for instance, I might use Tripit or Dopplr to share my travel and Goodreads to share my books – but the cost of maintaining accounts on multiple services is too high if they all require me to add and update my contacts manually.

The lack of interoperability between Web apps left open the opportunity for Facebook to create an environment where it’s easy to develop new apps without needing to waste time implementing user accounts and friend policies (Facebook already provides those for you). Users can fluidly discover what apps their friends are on and quickly add new ones without having to create new accounts and add contacts each time. Facebook has critical mass – that is to say, enough people are on it that this actually works.

The problem, however, is that the apps interoperate only within the closed world of Facebook. It would be better to have real interoperability between independent apps.

Brad’s solution is to create a service where people go to aggregate all their networks into a master network, and then let other services check against that to automate friend discovery. The outcome to the user who signs up to a new service should be “These 8 friends of yours are already users here, would you like to share your books / music / pictures / trips / etc. with them?”

Furthermore, the proposal is that the service that hosts the master networks (or administers the code that generates them if people run it on their own servers) should be run by a nonprofit.

This is a familiar scenario: all services benefit from certain shared data, such as track IDs (music), ISBNs (books), and now people. The idea in giving the project to a nonprofit to run is to get competing services on board and ensure impartiality.

People look for two qualities in this type of infrastructure provider: 1) critical mass and 2) ethics. It should appear stable enough that it’s reasonable to expect it to stick around for a while, and since we trust it with our data its intentions have to come across as good not evil.

My initial reaction is it doesn’t matter if the provider is a business or a nonprofit as long as the two criteria are met. The MusicBrainz / CDDB case is illustrative of the difficulties one can run into both when a for-profit service starts misbehaving and when a nonprofit that takes over its job struggles without critical mass. There are positive examples too. Wikipedia is a nonprofit with critical mass; Google is, for most people, still an ethically acceptable ad/map provider.

The discussion‘s ongoing. Some prefer a more radically decentralized approach. Brad’s piece inspired Dave Winer to do a podcast on the topic. His conclusion:

“a network that, from Day One, allows users of other networks to participate, and allows developers to access user’s data, with the user’s permission, but without permission from the network, may become the www of open identity systems.”

See also: An open Facebook?

"You’ve heard us talking about it, possibly even had one of our lovely beta testers telling you how great it’s going to be; now it’s out in the wild, and ready for you to download." More on the Jaikido blog

Some initial reactions:

See also:

  • Technically Speaking: Jaiku Integrates the power of conversation into Nokia S60
  • 901am: Jaiku releases new mobile conversation client for Nokia Series 60

I woke up this morning and felt like blogging. It’s been a long time :)

We’ve had Reboot, FOO Camp, and a bunch of other opportunities for rewarding conversations and so it feels like I could write posts for a week about all the new or further developed thoughts and ideas that are crowding my head. I’ve touched on some of those in recent talks (here’s video&slides from one), but I haven’t gotten around to blogging about them yet.

I’ll start by jotting down a few notes on questions that might be useful to ask when evaluating the potential of something to be turned into an online social object. As a disclaimer I guess I should say this may not make much sense unless you’re familiar with the previous posts on the subject (a number of people have suggested I revamp this blog to make it easier to navigate the material – I’ll eventually get around to doing that).

  • How well does the potential object yield itself to breaking it down to structured data? For instance trips can be pretty easily structured, as on Dopplr. Dopplr trips have only three key data points: a start date, end date, and a destination. Each one is expressed as a discrete. It got too complex with free text entry for destinations, so they decided to use cities with over 80,000 inhabitants as a proxy (so when I travel to San Sebastian in spain, I need to pick Bilbao on dopplr).
  • What data points to pick? You want to pick the data points that are sensible definitions of the object and give you the most interesting handles for generating sociographs. This is tricky because the more data points you introduce, the more fine-grained sociographs you can generate, but the more complext the system becomes. Events (as on Upcoming) are already more complicated than trips because you want a title, start and end date & time, location, and some kind of invitation policy. It’s a bigger usability hurdle but the tradeoff is reasonable if the assumption is it appeals to a broader population of users. Like on Upcoming vs. Dopplr, more of us go to events even if we don’t travel that much; events are more interesting than just who’s traveling where.
  • How often do people generate new instances of the object? This question should replace the "who’s your target customer?" question because your main target are probably the same people who generate lots of instances of the object. If a lot of people generate new objects often, ads+subscriptions probably make sense. If they don’t use it that often but the social networking adds a lot of value (as when looking for a book, car, real estate), then you need higher-value ads and/or transactions. If it’s the sort of object that few people create, but those who do do it lots, you’re probably talking about a hobbyist or professional audience (e.g. Dogster for petlovers) and might be able to tap into its special channels to figure out a business model
  • How much social gravitational pull does the object have? Complex social objects offer a lot of handles for discussion. A movie, for instance, has a cast, a plot, special effects, and plenty of other conversation points that people can talk about. Simple social objects like microblog posts don’t have as many such handles. On microblogs like Jaiku it’s typically someone just asserting something, to which you might or might not be inclined to reply. Big social objects have more social gravity. Movies attract viewers and conversation like stars and big planets attract matter from space. Tiny social objects are more like a meteor shower; each one has very little gravitational pull as such, but when you add up all the tiny particles in space, they embody more total matter than the big constellations.