A social network site is a website where we share some common interest with other people. That interest can be your personal life (Facebook), your professional career (LinkedIn), your sport, your hobby, or just a single conference (Picnic Network).
All these networks have one thing in common: they are walled gardens, islands that force their users to rediscover their friends and re-explain who they are.
At Mediamatic Lab we are exploring methods to connect all those islands, creating an archipelago where you can travel from island to island.
Social Networks Should be Fun
A common interest is what fuels most sites. It brings people together, it leads to discussions, creativity and close relationships between people. Groups, hobbies, clubs, it is the glue of society. Social networks bring that glue to the internet, make it possible to interact from our homes to interact with the very same people we know from the sport field, that conference or some photo we shared online.
We have more than one interest. We might have more than one career. And we definitely have more than one group of friends. All those groups will most definitely not be present on one single website, and probably will have a multitude of different online places where they meet. The website of the rowing club, the website of a cultural foundation, the website of the family.
Here the problem starts.
Social Networks Are Walled Gardens
Creating and maintaining profiles on social network sites leads to a very real social network fatigue. More and more people simply refuse to become member of yet another o-so-cool website. I am one of those people who refuse to become member, it is just too much. And I definitely do not maintain my profiles.
People not maintaining their profiles is a shame. It makes sites less interesting, and gives less incentive to create an active community around a common interest. And that active community was the goal in the first place.
Established sites try to boast their user base into the millions of people. Just to make the chances bigger that your friends are on that specific site as well. But what if my active friend group is somewhere else? What if my organisation wants to have their own identity on the web? Their own editorial content? Their own responsibilities? Do you think your organisation wants to be a Facebook or Hyves group? No way, they want to have their own site. Their own people to stay in contact with, their own identity on the world wide web.
A Network of Sites For People With Common Interests
Organisations want to retain their own identity and keep control over that identity. That is why they mostly have a website of their own. Those organisational websites are slowly transformed into social networks to connect with interested people, members, associates and other people.
To be able to get people participate in your site you have to make it easy to become member. There is technology for that, it is called OpenID. OpenID is a way to authenticate at a website using the credentials of another website. Say signing on on Mediamatic.net, using your yahoo.com username.
Besides authentication there are also initiatives on the way to make it easy to distribute updates to your profile to other websites you are member of. And the same for your friend lists, why make friends for the 2nd, 3rd, 4th time? You know those people already, let the websites figure out the rest.
So you have your presence on multiple sites, you have a central profile, and you are using your OpenID to sign on. And now you switch your blog from Blogger to your own site. You want to move your nice photos along with you, your articles, your bookmarks, your whole online blogging world. How to do that?
It Is Your Data, Your Personal Network
It should be possible to move all your data from one site to another. Leaving behind references at the old location to the new location. It is all your data, you made it, you created it, you own it. So you should be able to pick it up and move it to any other website or maybe even multiple sites.
The same for you account (or profile). When you leave a site, pick it up and move it somewhere else. Leaving a reference to the new location so that people (your friends!) can still find you.
In this way we are talking more about your personal network that is facilitated by a multitude of websites. Your photos on Flickr, your blog on wordpress, your musings on your own site, your career on LinkedIn. All of those sites working together, using the photos on Flickr on your blog, your CV on LinkedIn on your personal site.
The idea is that you become a member of a site because the for you interesting people are there. When your interests change, your location changes. You can move houses, let us make it possible to move your data as well.
Mediamatic Lab is working hard to make it possible to have your own personal network, to give you the ownership of your data. On Saturday December 8th, 2007, we have hosted a workshop where we have discussed the technologies and user scenarios involved with other partners in the industry. You can read an article about the technologies we propose.
Spring 2008 will give you back your own personal network.