Social Charlene, Social Cisco

Charlene Li laments “the proliferation of niche social networks” and contrasts it with the reality of a single social graph. She hopes that the Data Portability cavalry will rescue us, and so do I.

Talking of niche social networks, Cisco has just revealed its plans to enable firms to create yet more of them. The firms can then monitor interactions within the networks. It sounds a little bit like spying, but it’s really just market research, wrote Mashable Kristen, thus providing one of the best lines on business 2.0 I’ve ever read.

So Cisco, like Amazon, is part of the proliferation problem. I wondered earlier if Amazon will be part of the solution. Today, I have the same question about Cisco. In particular, I wonder if they will support the Data Portability Workgroup (DPW).

Amazon Profile

I seem to have a profile at Amazon. It shows my Media Library, which is essentially my purchase history. I could add other things to the library, such as book I bought in a real-world store.

I saw this via Mashable Mark, who presents it as Amazon’s stealthy entry into social networking. He answers one of my questions: if you go to my profile, and buy something from it, do I get an affiliate commission? The answer is no. I’m also wondering about Amazon’s intentions around the social networking standards…

What DiSo Means to Me

Many feed readers (mine included) just caught DiSo. That’s not as unhealthy as it might sound. The term refers to distributed social networking. Maybe it might have been called DiSoNe, but that would be a silly name.

DiSo is a free/open source software project. The software will implement web standards such as OpenID and OAuth. 2007 was a big year in terms of the definition of these standards. It seems to me that one of the more immediate goals of DiSo is to make 2008 as big a year in terms of implementation.

The DiSo model “can be described as having three sides… Information, Identity, and Interaction.” I think that the first and last of these sides correspond to Content and Connection. I admit that’s rather like saying that I made myself a hammer a while ago, and now everything looks like a nail. Perhaps I need a term for Identify beginning with C: character? How good a term is that? It depends on how closely web identities resemble fictional characters.

Does all this stuff about standards and models sound rather abstract? I’d say yes, and that if the abstraction is a problem, then the DiSo project is an attempt at a solution. It’ll produce code that people can use. To get gradually more specific:

Well, that’s what I’ve found out or deduced about DiSo so far. I hope that the above is helpful to others. I had to do some digging and head-scratching before arriving at this understanding. I found Anne’s post at GigaOm to be too WordPress-centric (yes, I believe that it’s possible to be too WordPress-centric).

I tend to sync better with Chris Messina’s ideas than with his writing. For example, I don’t find the term The inside-out social network very helpful. And, after reading the last paragraph of his post with that name, I feel rather tired, vaguely inspired, but none the wiser.

Of course, the rather tired thing may be because it’s 3am here. If, due to that or any other cause, there are mistakes in the above, I hope that someone more knowledgeable and/or awake will correct them.

From LiveJournal to…

200px-livejournal-logo.pngLiveJournal is, among other things, a hosted blogging service. It is interesting in many ways: it’s powered by free/open source software; it’s been sold recently, and for the second time; it has a strong social networking component; it’s one of the older blogging products/services, having been started in 1999; it’s popular, with the LJ stats page claiming over 14 million blogs at the time of this writing.

There are of course posts all over the place about the sale. The post by Frank, the LJ mascot, has drawn 5000 comments already. Even my posts on the LJ sale drew some comments. One of the comments was from that girl again, who also made her own post on the sale.

Having plundered everything they could from its code and staff, Six Apart have offloaded the troublesome Livejournal onto some Russians… I don’t trust SUP. I see even more ads and even less privacy in my LJ future.

Oh well, at least the guy who runs Insanejournal is happy. Every cloud…

The most solid silver lining to this “cloud” is that LJ is free/open source. The LJ code is available, and is indeed in use at multiple other sites, including InsaneJournal and, yes, DeadJournal.

I wrote “most solid silver,” not “cast iron” or “copper-bottomed,” because there is a loophole in the GPL. Nevertheless, if you like the software of LJ (or, for that matter) but dislike other aspects of the site itself, you can find other sites running much the same software under different policies.

Finally, I want to pick up on the point that LJ includes a stronger social networking component than most blogging products and services. This is particularly interesting, given the current spate of posts (e.g.) referring to “social blogs.”

Such hybrids include Six Apart’s Vox. Since the launch, it has seemed to me that: Vox is like LJ with the corners carefully rounded and polished; 6A acquired LJ, not because it wanted LJ, but because it wanted Vox.

Social blogging platforms also include trendy venture capital bait like Tumblr and Twitter. Hence it seems that LJ was ahead of its time: social blogging in the previous millennium.

Content, Connection, and Directions

You may have been in on the recent conversation about blogs, social networks, and the stuff in between. To refresh your memory, or to get you caught up, here are three contributions to the conversation:

Alex Iskold just offered an evolutionary perspective on personal publishing. Blogs (e.g., Blogger, Movable Type, WordPress) were followed by social networks (e.g., MySpace, Facebook) which were followed by microblogs (e.g., Twitter, Tumblr). Alex described each of the three types of personal publishing as a vertical.

Fred Wilson posted a chart that he drew on a conference room whiteboard. His current focus, as a venture capitalist, is on the cluster in the middle: the one he labels as social blogging (and which corresponds to microblogs, in Alex’s term).

I presented my perspective on this issue in terms of content and connection. Blogs tend to emphasize content, social networks tend to emphasize connection.

I implicitly drew a horizontal line from content to connection, and placed blogs toward one end and nets toward the other. I think of Alex’s verticals as bounded by lines slicing up my horizontal continuum.

Fred’s line is of course diagonal. The more I think about it, the more I think that mine should also be diagonal. In fact, when I get some time (which I may do if my son’s nap continues) I’ll draw a two-dimensional chart, with content and connection as the two axes.

But now I should finish off the post-in-progress about LiveJournal, a product of great relevance to this conversation…

Facebook, Friendship, and the Social Graph

According to Cory Doctorow, Facebook is no paragon of virtue, but there’s no need to worry about it achieving critical mass and threatening the web itself as a platform. His reasoning is based on a central component of Facebook, and of every other social network: the friends list.

It’s socially awkward to refuse to add someone to your friends list — but removing someone from your friend-list is practically a declaration of war. The least-awkward way to get back to a friends list with nothing but friends on it is to reboot: create a new identity on a new system and send out some invites (of course, chances are at least one of those invites will go to someone who’ll groan and wonder why we’re dumb enough to think that we’re pals).

That reminded me of the problem statement in Brad Fitz’s Thoughts on the Social Graph.

What I mean by “social graph” is a the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related… Unfortunately, there doesn’t exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that’s comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.

If you want to be able to reboot in the way that Cory describes, this is less of a problem than a blessing, less a bug than a feature, providing as it does a set of refuges from friendship requests. While those working on the social graph problem will see the need for such refuges, and will define the tools to build them, I’m not sure that J. Random Networker wants to learn how to wield such tools.

Conversation = Content + Connection

Let’s start with four statements about conversation(s).

  • “Conversation is a profound act of humanity.” That quote is from a wonderful essay, the wonderful title of which provides the next statement.
  • Markets Are Conversations (Searls & Weinberger).
  • The naked corporation should have naked conversations with customers and other stakeholders. (Each of the naked terms is a book title: the first is how Tapscott & Ticoll describe the transparent and trustworthy firm, while the second is how Scoble & Israel describe corporate blogging done right.)
  • Conversation = content + connection.

The above statements set the stage for some thoughts prompted by Alex Iskold’s remark (on Read/Write Web) that blogging just isn’t that hot anymore, in part due to “competition from social networks and microblogging platforms.” My first reaction was what I now think of as a knee-jerk defense of blogging: microblogging is still blogging, blogging is conversation and hence social, a blogroll is a set of links in a social network, as well as a set of web links, etc.

Taking a step back enables a clearer second thought. Conversation is still vital to the web, to society, and to human nature. What’s changing on the web right now is the relative emphasis between two ingredients of conversation: content and connection.

Traditional blogging emphasizes content. The “average” blog post is like a short article, with a few paragraphs, such as the most popular recent post on this blog. There is of course a lot of variation around this average: some of my posts are far shorter, some are rather longer, and posts at RWW tend to be in-depth, and hence on the long side.

Social networks, of course, emphasize connection. But if you look at a page on, say, Facebook, you will see not the person’s connections, but also content. Compared with blog content, Facebook content is more likely to be compressed. For example, the top of my profile includes status, which is rather brief, and links to some of my recent web activity, which happens to be blogging. It compresses each post down to author, post title, and blog name.

I could now take the paradoxical step of expanding on various forms of compression. But I won’t, since to do so might cannibalize a follow-up post, would make this post longer than I want it to be, and would dilute the main point of the post.

The point is that conversation is vital to us, that content and connection are two of the main ingredients of conversation, and that there is currently a trend on the web toward conversations heavier on connection and lighter on content. To be more specific, that’s the point I’ve tried to make in this particular post, and the point around which I’m trying to get a conversation started.

LinkedIn Looking Like a Laggard

At first, I wondered why it was news to at least two blogs that it will be possible to enhance your LinkedIn profile with – a photo! Then I realized that the point of the story is that it’s taken four years. I guess I should find a respectable looking photo to put on my profile.

And what about the LinkedIn API for developers? Apparently, it’s still under development…

Social Graph: Words and Pictures

Among those who dislike the term social graph is Josh Catone (at RWW). Among those who seem to like the term is Brad Fitzpatrick.

Personally, I find the term a lot less ugly than the image Brad used to illustrate his thoughts on graphing. So I was pleased to see Josh including in his post an image less ugly and more appropriate to illustrate this social stuff. I like the image so much that I swiped it. I like its name more than Josh probably does; the file is social-graph.jpg.