How to open up the social web

open standardsThe social part of the web is a hot topic these days. We see a development in which a lot of webapplications are incorporating some way of social interaction with friends, collegues or family. New applications arrived which enable us to inform our friends about what we’re doing, where we are or what we would like to share. The big players like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft understand the importance of online social activity and are rapidly taking steps to adapt their platforms (see yahoo opens up) or introduce new platforms (e.g. Google’s OpenSocial). I think this is a good thing, social activities often enrich the experience of online applications and it will become a more important aspect of the web in the coming years. However, this also introduces a couple of new problems (or should we call it challenges). A friend of mine, @kleverlaan, wrote an interesting post (dutch) after visiting the Web2.0 expo in San Francisco explaining why the social web is currently broken. In a nutshell, it comes down to the fact that for every webapplication that you register for you will have to:
1) Register with a new username / password combination (and try to remember it)
2) Provide some more detailed profile information
3) Find all your friends, family and collegues who happen to use the same application
4) Define the relationship between you and your friends

What we need to do is open up the social web: making all our data portable between applications. The good news is that a couple of open standards have already been introduced. OpenId, OAuth and OpenSocial provide the technology to make a big part of our data portable across multiple applications. But an average user should not be involved with any of those technologies. The technologies need to be utilized to build the ‘services of the Social Web’. Namely: Identity Providers, Social Graph Providers and Content Aggregators (like Plaxo Pulse, FriendFeed). It might even be possible to make the social graph part of your online identity, leaving the need for a separate Social Graph provider.

The services of the Social Web still leave some problems unsolved. For example, they don’t provide a solution for the management of your online reputation. I would like to take my Ebay reputation with me when I register at Craigslist. Or use my slashdot karma when I go to digg. It’s a tough one since the context often matters for reputations, but most certainly a step we have to take in order to open up the social web.

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