Web 2.0 Blog – Discovering Innovation Opportunities using Social Media

Posts Tagged ‘social networks

I noticed after writing this post that the underlying theme emerging from the fanciful thought droppings below is that it is best for the end user if data and applications are separate and interoperable.   The theme is starting to highlight for me the promise of semantic technology and open data standards.

I keep hearing will facebook win? Will google win? Will microsoft ever get out in the running? Will twitter be bought and by whom?  I wanted to offer another option.  Could the people win?

How would the people win?
Well what is a social network anyway? It’s a series of connections between people and it has rules for distributing information to people based on their connection.  Mutually agreed friends, followers and non-connected voyers following what you do and when you do it  as well as sharing with you.  The connecting and sharing  rules of the social network you choose determines what others see and, if you are up on the privacy settings, how you are connected with them.

Right now our choice is which networks to be on and we make that choice based on the connection rules, the type of content and interactions that can be had and where the people we want to connect with already are. As facebook or another network become more popular, it becomes more difficult not to choose it.

But we pay a price for choosing an online social network.
1. We have to accept the interface which is chosen for us. And while more customizations and widgets are coming out, the essential choice of interface is the control of the provider, not us.
2. We can’t choose our ideal mix. For instance what if we want a myspace style interface but with our facebook friends feed?   There are some configuration options available but still trying to match what we want with what is out there can be challenge.
3. We get targeted advertising based on our peronal information. Maybe we want it, maybe we don’t but at any rate we are not in full control of our information which gets mined for these ads.
4. We can’t move our information to another network or cross link to people in other networks. This is changing some but our information is still not in our control.
5. We can’t create our own rules for connection and viewing, we have to relay on a central authority to do this, even if they allow some flexibility. Very non-Web 2.0.

So how do we win?

What if instead of our data residing on a social network server, it resided on our own private space in the cloud?

And what if we could choose or even create the applications which would allow our data to be seen but others and with the rules which we decide on.  So we could use a facebook style application to interact with our friends but our friends wouldn’t have to be “on” facebook. They would simply have their own ‘cloud space’ and they could send twitter style updates back to us and not have to look at the vacation pics we just posted if they don’t want to.  But they could also choose to send some updates only to some people if they wanted, rather than having the choice tweet to all or tweet directly to one.  Basically the social network core of connections and activity of you and your friends could be managed by any number of applications and rule configuration more tailored to each individual. The way you want to interact with your friends and who your friends could be would not be determined by the popularity of a social network but by you.

Would this kill facebook or google?  Facebook would probably be the most popular application for people to choose to use to interact with their friends with and they could still get their ad revenue.  Google could provide the cloud space to host our data securely for free with ads or for a small cost as well as provide an interface application if you want it.

Twitter provides the first step in separating social data from the social application and it is good evidence of why this approach would be so popular.  I don’t mean the asynchronous relationships or the 140 character limit, but the fact that anyone can build a twitter application to interact with the “cloud space” of twitterfeeds.  Tweetdeck, tweetgrid, and many other twitter applications let people choose how to interact with their social connections and what their interface looks and feels like to some extent.  I am suggesting is widening this approach to include all of your personal information which you would want to potentially share and putting you back in control of your own information.

So you could have one interface for your immediate family, another window for friends and another for interesting people you follow or combination you choose.  Application vendors could make money through ads but you would choose who had a privacy policy on what those ads could find out about you.  Or you could choose to keep everything very private and pay for a service and place to keep your data.  This is similar to what people refer to as interoperability between networks but also with the twist of separating our peronsal data from the network itself.  So its more of an interoperable data model for social networking than an interoperable social network model.

Would this work?  Is part of a social network, the common rules and ways to connect which we are all are agreed upon?  If some people could stop sharing a lot of information except with their BFs, would the fabric of the social network be weakened and this whole idea result in a less networked world?    I don’t think it would because the culture has started to discover the benefits of sharing, but it’s definitely an open question.

So how do we get there?  Hmmm. Not sure.  Google’s free app engine could potentially power something like this. Something like a user rebellion which occurred when facebook tried to change its privacy policy a couple of months ago might be the start of an online privacy movement.  Right now people seem to be having too much fun though to worry about being in charge of their own information. Will this change?  I guess it depends what the social networks decide to do with all of our information that they have.

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