I really enjoyed reading Brad Fitzpatrick’s entry on Thoughts on the Social Graph. This may be one of the most accurate and succinct problem statements ever. It definitely expresses my sentiments and that of many of my friends. Here it is: “People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site“. I also love his “corollary”, “Developing “Social Applications” is too much work“.
I want registration for social applications to be like the Verizon commercial, at least visually, in that when I sign up, my network comes along with me for the ride.
Of course I don’t want double the network. I want my wife to have her own 🙂 Hopefully you get my point.
This whole thing is actually pretty funny to me in ways because it mirrors where I started in this business back in 1996 at Caterpillar. Every application had its own view of identity and yet it was clear that monolithic identity store was a pipe dream. That was the dawn of meta-directories becoming big and clearly we’ve come a long way since then, though I still think real identity management is somewhat of a fantasy island. Lots of companies “get it”, but the number who have really implemented it and are achieving commensurate benefits for the investment are much lower.
Social applications like Facebook, dopplr, LinkedIn (some of my favorites), etc. are essentially forcing the common man (ok, tech geeks like me and every other human under, say 30 🙂 into worrying about the same thing.
I don’t have an issue with each of those services/applications wanting to have their own copy of the identities, though it clearly makes things harder. But what’s their alternative? There is no great Identity Provider on the net (though I’m sure Google, Yahoo, AOL, etc. are working on it). I agree with Brad that having a single owner of the centralized “owner” of the social graph would be bad. What I want is for each social app to have a way to notify others or receive notifications from others, that something about me or my network has changed.
If there was a way for developers to leverage the social graph that already exists I’ll bet we would see an explosion of cool stuff out there. And more importantly I would only have to say you are my friend once!
Read Brad’s thoughts. They’re good and I don’t want to repeat all of them here. Especially look at “3. For end-users” – I’ll bet it resonates with you too. His non-goals are also spot on.
We do need a better name for this than “Social Graph”, but that’s the easy part of the problem :-). Making the maintenance and usage of it as easy as breathing will be tough, but that’s what makes it so fascinating to me.
I’ve always said that Identity is the Kevin Bacon of the IT world. There is just nothing interesting, imho, that you can do in IT that’s separated by more than one degree from Identity. This is especially true of the “social web”.