adding structure to social networks OR open-sourcing Web 2.0 OR checking to see if my brother reads my blog

Brad Fitzpatrick has thoughts on the social graph:

What I mean by “social graph” is a the global mapping of everybody and how they’re related… Currently if you’re a new site that needs the social graph (e.g. to provide one fun & useful feature (e.g. where are your friends traveling and when?), then you face a much bigger problem then just implementing your main feature. You also have to have usernames, passwords (or hopefully you use OpenID instead), a way to invite friends, add/remove friends, and the list goes on. So generally you have to ask for email addresses too, requiring you to send out address verification emails, etc. Then lost username/password emails. etc, etc. If I had to declare the problem statement succinctly, it’d be: People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site., but also: Developing “Social Applications” is too much work.

Facebook’s answer seems to be that the world should just all be Facebook apps… [but a] centralized “owner” of the social graph is bad for the Internet.

He then goes on to describe the, somewhat technical, goals of a more open social graph.

For more fun social networking neologisms, here’s Jon Udell (my must-read tech writer) with examples of lifebits which the social graph would help stitch together:

Today we can, and often do, put serious effort into these acts of personal publishing [i.e blogs]. But the infrastructure to which we commit our words, sounds, and images doesn’t take our effort seriously. There’s no guarantee that anyone will be able to access an item at the published address in a year, never mind ten or a hundred. And there’s no guarantee that the effects of these acts of personal publishing — the reactions they provoke, the influences that flow from them, the reputations they create for us — can be measured.

In the hosted lifebits scenario such guarantees will exist, because we’ll pay for the service that makes them. At the core of that service is an archive that provides price-tiered levels of assurance that your stuff will be stable over time, that access will be granted in exactly the ways you specify, and that you can monitor that access.

Today when I [write emails], I transmit a message from my email system to yours. If I want to maintain a coherent archive of my email, there are all sorts of challenges. Over time I use a succession of personal and business email systems. And at any given point I use several different ones concurrently, to separate personal from business correspondence. I know a few people who have kept their email archives intact over time, but for most those archives are scattered across a variety of local and (nowadays) cloud-based repositories.

In the hosted lifebits scenario, an email message can be a kissing cousin to a blog posting or a comment. I write it, commit it to my archive at a stable URL, notify you of its existence at that URL, and optionally transmit a copy of the message. That last step is optional because this model decouples two aspects of email that have always been inseparable: notification and transmission.

Its a bit funny to me that Jon — a guy all about loose coupling and decentralization — is advocating a hosted service and Brad — a designer of a proprietary social network site, i.e. a closed network — is advocating a distributed system. Nevertheless, that Jon and Brad are talking about these things makes me think these things are getting close to reality and soon. ((BTW, Kevin take good notes. There will be an exam.)) ((Yes, I have footnotes on my blog now.))