I was recently wondering about the fact that we where at the very beginning of the social networking era. And I was thinking to myself that, like HTTP vs. hypercard, the only way to deal openly with social groups real-time sharing needs is to develop an open protocol that would allow the development of social accounts (in the very same way that you have mail accounts) that you could easily create and control. I believe we really are at the pre-standard age of the phenomenon (or should I say, the completion of the phenomenon, since emails and IRC where bits of our social life).
I’m not the only one to think that way, of course : Adrian Thurston has developped the distributed social networking protocol which may well be the right way to do it. Will he be the next Tim Berners-Lee ? Today it’s probably not as easy as in the good ol’ times. When TBL came up with the HTTP protocol, its most proeminent private competitor was HyperCard, a $50 Apple application that actually shipped with all new Macs (we were in 1987). So on the bad side, today, Mr. Thurston would have to fight against one big company (FB) that is thought to handle a significant amount of the social traffic (this is not true, though, blogs, emails, chats, phone calls, face-to-face meetings, still hold the largest part of this social traffic) On the bright side, several people are a bit pissed off by the success of FB. Google’s Orkut and Buzz are attempts to jump in the SN/micro-blogging phenomenon, and Apple’s Ping is a miserable attempt to sneak iTunes users into a social network. So if someone proposes a way to remove the « forerunner advantage » effect that currently benefits FB. So a question arises : while Google almost always chose to undermine competitors positions by pushing open standards efforts, why did it not do it this time for social networking ? It would be quite simple to allow deep interop with Social Networking sites if your had social identities held by your email addresses. Just transform mail servers into identities servers, using private/public key for publication/sharing, a real-time push/pull API, and you’re almost done ! It would probably not even destroy Facebook, as it would remain a great contender because of what it really brings to the users : an open environment for application integration. But it would also open the field for a lot of new competitors bringing interesting innovations.