Solving the social network problem
Lets get straight to the point: there’s a big problem with social networks – the fact that there’s a new one every day. Now this would be all fine if people didn’t care, but that brings me to the second problem: people do care, and generally love to be a part of these things. The social network for music (wait, two), the one for contacts, the one with photos, the one for 43 random things – the list goes on (heck, there’s Ning packing over 80.000 of these). Crazy. But within the chaos, something in common – you and your friends.
If you’re like me, you’re tired of having to add friends or accept friend requests in all of these networks. It makes sense to connect to people in these services (that’s how you get the value out of them), but it’s really tricky to control it. It’s a huge burden to manage all this network structure – this needs a fix.
A potential fix to the problem
I’ve been thinking about how OpenId and Microformats could play into this, and apparently, I’m not alone. We already have the identification through OpenID, there’s hCard+XFN that can provide the necessary bits of information about ourselves (and our friends) to the network, why not create a mechanism allowing networks to save us the trouble of adding friends, accepting requests and setting up preferences?
Process: I want networks to ask me, right off the bat when signing up, if I already have a profile that can be imported in (through hCard+XFN). I type in the URL for my OpenID and the network gets my information (gets OpenID page, downloads hCard formatted information, builds my user information based on that). Then it can grab my list of friends from XFN formatted data. With one textfield (the URL for either my OpenID or a profile on a different network), it would pre-populate both my information and the information for friends I want to add. Sweet.
A good start: A few social networks already have microformatted data on user profiles (Last.FM, Dopplr, Twitter and Cork’d), meaning any other network could easily consume this data when you sign-up, saving you a load of trouble – which is exactly what Dopplr (being smart as it is) does. Now if other networks would tag along, that would be superb.
Because, really, we do love participating in these sites, and we love having fancy profiles with all our friends on there, but actually going through the trouble of setting that up every single time is crazy. Social network developers, help us out here, we’re going bankrupt. Thoughts? Notes of frustration? Suggestions? Feel free to leave a comment on this story.
Update: Seems like Wired picked up on the need for open social networking platforms and published an article by Scott Gilbertson called “Slap in the Facebook”. Nothing you haven’t read in the blogosphere in the last couple of days, but still a good read. Go have a look if you will.