Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Next Step for Social Sites

I don't believe "data should be free", but I do believe you should control your own data. On the technical side, there's the notion of anonymous capabilities (why do we still have voter fraud in America and libraries that know which books we borrowed after we have returned them?). Providing a programming (vs crypto) framework for obligations and anonymous capabilities would be amazing - but why, as a Netflix user, do I have to struggle to grab my movie ratings before I can write a rating algorithm based on how I watch movies? Before adding sophisticated security, I'm asking for basic functionality for my data!

Data may or may not want to be free, but it certainly wants to travel. Dapper shows that public webpages are just data we can manipulate, but I found these tools difficult to use in practice, and in general, there's probably already enough interest to make a concrete widget by the time I think of something. For example, when setting up this blog, I wanted the same movie and books roll as on my facebook account. This is tricky because Facebook requires logging in to grab data, and Blogger does nothing to simplify integrating the data in, especially live data with potentially bidirectional relationships.

Boding well, there has been a big push for OpenID to allow single registration across multiple sites that support it. I'm more inclined towards a browser integrated versions of something like CardSpace (I believe this basic idea originated from MIT but cannot find the reference). However... what about the data? I want my Picasa data on my cellphone and laptop, online or offline, and I want to be able to have a feed on my blog or facebook profile. Depending on which app I'm using, I'll want to interact differently in terms of actions and granularity , and have new data propagate (hence lenses).

I suspect part of the future draws of social nets, and especially new ones, is the ability to not have a lot of pain in migrating data. Once more and more apps start supporting that, people will only move to ones that support that (no more retyping data unless necessary!), causing an avalanche. Of course, there's the question of legacy juggernauts - but I suspect "the social" will be bigger than the sum of its parts for this reason, and people will be annoyed with limitations of monolothic systems. The only party I see losing from this is Facebook as it is the resident Microsoft - but compare it to a iphone menu between Flickr, Blogger, and Hasbro. Hello, Android.

ps: I'm curious as to future interplay with the upcoming iPhone native code SDK and Android - a VM over both, and JS + Gears/AIR would be an interesting language target.
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