So this may not be the answer to social computing utopia yet, but the latest announcements from MySpace, Facebook and Google on their various data portability initiatives are exciting. After months of being members of the Data Portability Workgroup, these announcements (although made separately, and also interestingly not made in reference to working with the DP) appear to be the first of what I hope to be many:
On the premise that “users are in control of their data,” MySpace was first out of the gate with their Data Availability announcement. Inside this opt-in framework users will be able to dynamically share their data & content with third-party sites. Users will be able to port (1) Publicly-available basic profile information, (2) MySpace photos, (3) MySpaceTV videos, and (4) friend networks. Launch partners for this initiative include Ebay, Twitter, Yahoo!, and MySpace’s own subsidiary, Photobucket.
Facebook quickly countered with their own version of a data portability initiative, Facebook Connect. Facebook Connect (FBC) seems to echo pretty much the Data Availability initiative - the users are in control of their data and content, and now can port their Facebook data to third-party partner sites. Digg has already been announced as a launch partner for FBC, and it will be interesting to see who else comes in on Team Facebook.
Enter Google: The Google offering, Friend Connect, takes a different turn bringing the social Web to the long tail. With MySpace and Facebook, data portability is flowing out from them; with Google’s Friend Connect data portability becomes even more significant by allowing websites, any site, to act as a social hub. As a user I can opt-in to a Friend Connect-enabled site and if I so choose port my content and even friend network over to that site. I can also (and most virtuously for said site) have all of my interactions with that site fed back to my social net feeds (thus encouraging more traffic, and theoretically, more qualified traffic).
As a site owner, I don't need to do a massive redesign, or even know code. With a snippet of embeddable code I can create a social experience on my existing site by 1) allowing users to login via OpenID, 2)bring their data to populate their presence, and 3)create a dynamic experience by integrating OpenSocial apps to my site.
According to Google, “Any website owner can add a snippet of code to his or her site and get social features up and running immediately without programming - picking and choosing from built-in functionality like user registration, invitations, members gallery, message posting and reviews, as well as third-party applications built by the OpenSocial developer community.”
Any app, Any site, Any friends…
I was on the conference call Google held this morning to discuss the Friend Connect service where they elaborated on some key points:
First, about a dozen or so (test) sites will be Friend Connect-enabled for beta testing (live later this evening after Google’s Campfire) and preview. They project that it will be a few months before FC is available for all webmasters (you can sign up for a waiting list at Google's Friend Connect site once it goes live later tonight...you'll get a 404 Error if you try now)
The Friend Connect service helps any site become social by acting as a hub for the following existing open standards:
1. Universal user sign-in and authentication via OpenID (will support AOL and Google logins) for any site
2. Friend sources (Facebook, MySpace, Plaxo, etc.)
3. Features for non-social sites in the form of OpenSocial Apps
This is a very exciting announcement-- because the concept is there, although the implementation may be lacking.
Adoption of Google initiatives seem to have been lagging (like, who builds Open Social apps?) but the more interesting part of all of these announcements is not what they will affect in the immediate...but what these moves say about the future of the web.