Should Social Networking Work Like Email?

A few days ago, Jason Gorman tweeted that he thought social networks should work like email – a set of common standards that no one company owns and controls. It fits in with my thinking that the walled-garden approach taken by Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn is not a good thing. It may make it easier for those companies to monetise their services, but confining content and relationships to proprietary silos is a bad thing for the web as a whole. You risk ending up having to use the web equivalent of seven telephones.

I’d prefer to see an ecosystem of collaborative applications each of which focusses on doing one thing and doing it well, using open APIs and common standards like RSS. I’d love to see a separation between applications that focus on hosting content, be it micro-blogging, photo-sharing, discussion forums or friend list management, and those that aggregate, filter and display that content. Each can adopt whatever financial model makes sense for whatever it is they’re trying to do.

The irony is that’s how Twitter started out, encouraging a large number of third parties to build applications using their users’ data, then shutting down the APIs and killing off those apps once their user base reached critical mass.

This entry was posted in Social Media and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Should Social Networking Work Like Email?

  1. Diaspora* was supposed to be the open-API answer to the walled garden, but it doesn’t seem to have gone anywhere.

  2. Tim Hall says:

    Ditto, although it’s day may still come. I suppose it’s a bit chicken-and-egg. At the moment, any new network either needs a critical mass of users or needs to be able to import content from elsewhere. Maybe it’s just too late, and the propietary silos have won.

  3. Peter Crowther says:

    Yes. Absolutely critical. I have a workable architecture, though I need someone to eyeball it for security. Give me 2-3 good programmers and a year.

  4. Tim Hall says:

    I’d be interested to see that. Is it based around any existing open standards (like RSS?).

  5. Tim Hall says:

    The sort of thing I’d like to see:

    When you post something online, you think more of “Which groups of people do you want to see (or not see) this” rather than “Which networks shall I post this on”. Similarly when reading posts, you sort and filter based on who it’s from, and what it’s about rather than where it’s posted.

    That might improve the signal-to-noise ratio if it means we stop seeing the same updates cross-posted to multiple networks, as happens a lot at the moment.

  6. Carl Cravens says:

    Something I’ve lamented for awhile… the net was built on open protocols and ubiquitous services that anyone could run a server to provide. Those days are mostly gone.

    I’ve often wondered if a Twitter-like service could run on a network of independently-run servers. Something like email or NNTP. But spam has made it difficult to trust… how do you protect the network of trusted servers without making it very hard to get a new server in? This is exactly the problem with mail… there is no trust mechanism and anyone can set up a server and start sending mail, add it had to be received by the rest of the network. But as a mail server operator. I’d hate to pay an expensive license or jump through onerous hoops to get accepted into the network.

  7. Tim Hall says:

    You know, it wouldn’t be hard to implement a social network-alike on top of WordPress and other blogging platforms. RSS is already there, all it needs is plugins to support posting comments through third-party clients. Which may be the point where the spam issue raises it’s ugly head.

    Although I do think the spam issue is managable. Askmet (which really is a vital part of the WordPress ecosystem) works well enough to keep a lid on spam as far as this blog is concerned (it was a real pain back in the days when I still used Moveable Type). And this blog has been around more than a decade, and has thousands of posts.