Why Social Websites are really Faux-Social

Wired contributor Scott Gilbertson recently ranted about how social networks are adding to the ubiquitous walled gardens on the web (Slap in the Facebook: It’s Time for Social Networks to Open Up). He talked about something that we are all a little weary of – having to set up the same relationships in each social network he became part of.

In the article, he discusses an experiment that the folks at Wired did to try and build a social website like Facebook using freely available tools and widgets. They were able to get to about 90% of Facebook functionality, but the missing 10% was the most important part – the ability to link people in relationships.

Scott attributed the failure to the lack of “a generalized way to convey relationships between people’s identities on the internet”. But doesn’t that first require that we have a generalized way to represent people’s identities on the internet?

Let’s face it, relationship silos are really just extensions of identity silos.  The problem of having to create and re-create my relationships as I go from site to site mirrors my problem of having to create and re-create my identity as I go from site to site. The Facebook Platform might have one of the better Identity Provider APIs , but all the applications built on it still have to stay within Facebook itself.

There seems to be an opportunity for someone to launch a service that allows people to connect their OpenIDs using an appropriately named, tagged relationship. This could then be used as the basis for friend-style relationships in social applications. Of course, that would eliminate one of the big reasons most of these sites have experienced the growth they have – I’m on it cos my friends are on it. But it’s the same argument for not wanting to be limited by the MYG silos.


When you choose to add an application to your profile within Facebook,
it gives you a nice message telling you that it will share your
information with the application, but never what information it will
share. Essentially it is an open-ended invitation for the application
to look at my whole profile, even if the only thing it should really
have access to is my preference of music so it can put an appropriately
blinged out icon on my page. The lack of granularity here makes it
decidedly non user-centric as far as I am concerned. Perfect place for
an IGF style governance document. Every application should declare what data from my identity profile it needs, and why. That way if the ‘Book of the Month’ application wants my political leaning, I can agree to give that
information knowing fully well it won’t get my birth date.