Helping Social Software Be More Sociable

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I read with interest Dare’s post on the quandary social software finds itself in today. In a nutshell, the current crop of social software tools are not very sociable once you step outside of the particular tool. It’s really like one big world wide cliquish high-school. Your orkuts won’t talk to the friendsters who won’t talk to the Amazons and so on…

As Dare points out, there’s really no business incentive for these companies to allow users to export their social networks. They probably contain teams of marketers who drool at the personal information they are gathering and the opportunities of marketing. Why share?

I’ve tried to flesh out some ideas before on how I see social software evolving, but it occurred to me that there’s two possible solutions. The first is to create a profit motive for sharing. Once you give Google an incentive to allow users networks to be exposed outside of Orkut, they’ll do it.

Ok, that’s obvious. The question is how? Well first, users have to demand more control over their own data. Unfortunately, users don’t have that much leverage right now. They can threaten to leave Orkut, but only to move to Friendster? That only trades one closed network for another. My answer is to not leave social software soley in the hands of profit driven businesses. I think as tools like DasBlog and .TEXT evolv, it’s possible to create a social network that is completely based on open standards.

Take a look at RSS Bandit. As an open source RSS aggregator, it has no incentive (nor capability) to keep its data private. Thus it supports exporting feeds as OPML as well as many other standards. Another example is the Jabber protocol. Although it’s not widely adopted, the jabber protocol for instant messaging is another step in the right direction as its communication format is an open standard. Anyone can make a client to the protocol. Contrast this to the IM wars seen between Trillian, MSN, AIM, and Yahoo.

If these tools can gain traction and users start to demand control over their data and leave the closed systems for these open systems, we may see a move by these companies to open their systems in order to maintain a piece of the action. Hopefully these companies will focus on providing the best tools for navigating the various open networks as their point of distinction, rather than holding users data hostage.

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