The following is an email that I sent out to a number of friends and collegues, some of whom I know through Bootstrap Austin’s Web Group. Given that there are a number of people that I would like input on this, (many that are not in Austin, much less not in the web group) I am posting this note here.
Bootstrap Web and a few bcc’ed friends,
As some of you know I have been working on a book over the last six weeks. I have been pretty silent during that time. I am back. (Imagine hearing Jack Nicholson say “Here’s Johnny!” when I say this). After all of the writing, I am getting prepared to set out implementing some of the ideas that have been bouncing around in my head…. and I have a question that I would like to pose to the community at large to get your input on this… both on choices of technology and philosophy.
In the time that I was away, I received numerous invites to a number of social networks. Eight in total, with 6 of them being from this continent, and most of them being from the Austin and Dallas areas. What I find striking about each one of these new sites is they are all walled gardens– sites that are private “toll roads”, but at least at this time, do not have any notion of being publicly connected. Even Facebook, which is a favorite of mine because of its API, is still a walled garden.
My concern is that some of these walled gardens will fail. Some of the owners of these walled gardens will eventually charge rents- or might take their networks in directions that do not align with the work that I am doing and or perhaps with my values. I too, want to have a social network, but I too, see the problem with having Kevin’s walled garden. It will be really pretty, and I am certain that great value will be afforded to the entrepreneurs that interact in this social network… but I feel that right now as a community builder that I should be talking with you guys to see what you think- what can we do together to build public thoroughfares? Is it possible with the technologies that are out there? I have looked at OpenID, and I am a fan… I do not see yet how to build the network on it…. only how to create single source logins. I have also looked briefly at Plaxo’s Pulse network. I don’t see yet it really connecting people, but it feels like it could be interesting. But doesn’t it all feel like there is something missing on these sites? Doesn’t this all feel like sites like the very limited sites like Tripod.com or Angelfire.com of 1997? Doesn’t this feel like those friends that have AOL.com addresses (back then, and especially today) that are kinda stuck- dependent on some company that might change their policies, making those addresses a servere liability?
My questions to you are this- what is the proper way to go forward building public thoroughfares, but still having “my corner” of the internet where I conduct my business, and where you and other entrepreneurs can conduct your affairs… Just like down on 2nd Street here in Austin. How do we make sure that there are not ten gazzilion freaking logins, limited connectivity to the different sites? Or should I just forget about it right now, and build out my own private Idaho (my own private social network) and connect into other sites at some point in the future when the technology is here?
What are your thoughts?
I am going to post this as well at my blog. Given that this is going to Bootstrap-Web, we can interact there, although some of you will be bcc’ed on this conversation. If you want, please come make public comment on this on my website. I intend to be out in the open on this, for this is how I think that we can together build a stronger community. Here is the url where this is being posted: (this blog post)
Thank you for your thoughts. Now let’s go build our community together.
I am going to post some of the emails that I received on this here- a few are private, so I won’t, but most everything that I got back might add to this discussion.
First from Damon Cali:
Have you looked at Ning? Social networking in a box, but all Ning networks share a common login and account. It’s a bit of an experiment, but well backed by some serious talent Marc Andreseen of Netscape fame and experienced money ($44 million in series A). Check out Adreseen’s blog, pmarca.com for details – there’s a recent post on their crossing the 100,000 network milestone.
I’m not too familiar with it. I do know that Andreesen is a smart cookie, though, and I’d bet on them making something useful. I think you get a “Ning” id (as opposed to an OpenID), which gets you into any Ning network. And I do know that they are planning an extensive API (for lack of a better word) that may provide additional hooks for functionality. Details here:
From Brian Massey:
IMHO, you should build your own private Idaho, but make sure it touches every one of the other 49 states.
Facebook is already doing this with its open API, and their competitors are following suit.
It’s not about where I setup my profile, but what I can bring into it from the outside (video, pictures, my college’s football scores, friends’ comments) and where I can expose my profile (on a web page, on my friends’ phone, on my blog). OpenID is just one teeny part of that infrastructure of sharing.
We all know how to manage our passwords, and frankly we like walls between our personal crowd (MySpace) and our professional crowd (LinkedIn). Never should the two meet.
If you don’t have something unique to offer, then build your social network inside one of the existing ones. If you have something unique, build your own garden, and accept that:
1. We know how to create and remember passwords. It’s no big deal.
2. We will be members of as many social networks as we have facets to our lives – work facets, hobby facets, fetish facets
3. Even in a walled garden, you don’t have much control over what the community decides to do with itself.
4. Ultimately, it’s not about the roads. It’s the destinations. But you gotta have the roads.
Create a cool place to visit and make it easy to mix.
From Jonathan McCoy:
look at http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/07/24/9-ways-to-build-your-own-social-network/
Chris Garrigues says
A few weeks ago, an old friend of mine from a few decades back posted an interesting article on his blog entitled “How to Take Out Facebook” in which he makes some great suggestions in this area:
Steve Harper says
Great post. The simple answer to your question is I don’t know. I keep trying to come to grips with what problem are these social networks are trying to solve. The answers are the seeds to the value from which people will recognize and utilize and be willing to pony up either dollars, collaboration, innovation or simple ongoing involvement to make what is available today, valuable and really useful.
That being said…I think there is lots of room for improvement and that the tip of the social networking movement has yet to be reached.
Look forward to chatting more on how we can collaborate more on this.
From Brian Royce:
I am working on a project currently that addresses this stuff. I would like to talk to you a bit and see what your thoughts are – the project is called main corridor it is network connection at its best.
Chris Garrigues says
I had a thought the other day of a feature that I’d like to see in a truly open social network.
For users like myself who have IMAP based email systems, I’d like the network to be able to use my IMAP server as a backing store for my user id’s email functionality. Not only would messages sent through the network appear in my standard mail box that way, but it could also find existing emails that I’ve exchanged with other members and display threads that we were both involved with when I look at their profile.
Just a thought from the maven side of my brain.
Dee Copeland says
I’m no expert at social networking, but I’m definitely intrigued by the idea of bringing them together. I’m not sure how you can bring together social networks unless there’s a partnership based on similarity. Each society has different purpose, dynamics, rules, and applications or features that dictate how you interact. This provides a level of safety and certainty within the structure.
For instance, I have a myspace account, but don’t use it because I hate all the ads. I recently switched to Facebook because of the cleaner interface and it seems like “everyone” is using it. I also like their open app interface so it seems like it will grow in the future. I have a business account on Linked In, but never really use it….I can go on and on.
If someone were to build a platform that allows us to use the various accounts in one single interface, that would be great. Remember chat applications brought together aim, yahoo, msn etc.? Maybe this solution can be developed for social networks.
Richard MacKinnon says
I think blogs and personal websites will become increasingly important as places where users can publish one more links or hooks (via widgets) to the social networks that they participate and want to reveal. Ideally, these blogs, sites, and their widgets will get smarter at vetting the viewer and only reveal information that’s suitable. Information includes text and images or links to other sites or social networking sites that contain text and images. The vetting could place a user into classes such as: a) unknown – show only non-sensitive public information or no information, b) trusted – professional: show only non-sensitive professional information, c) trusted – friend: show information suitable for your friends, d) trusted – private: show private information on a case-by-case basis. This way you can have a single domain (eg http://www.mysite.com) that can serve multiple classes of viewers and you don’t need to rely on a single solution provider such as MySpace or Facebook. The excitement will come when these sorts of viewer-vetting smarts come to bear at the same time that widget usefulness matures–allowing a user’s web site or blog to become a dynamic portal to their public and private worlds.
Rich- I think that you are right on- that the world is going to be opening up with widgets- I need to post something about the announcement that is being leaked and talked about today- about Google’s (and other’s) OpenSocial open network standard- I think that it matches nicely with what you are saying.
Thank you for the comment, I am glad to hear that LessNetworks.com is doing great- and I really enjoy how you guys are incorporating social networking into the virtual-cafe-office experience!