Graphing your online identity

* Social networking experts create a ‘manifesto’

August is a slow month, so it doesn’t take much to get a buzz rolling. And the buzz was rolling last week after Brad Fitzpatrick, creator of LiveJournal and co-inventor of OpenID, and David Recordon, VeriSign - and OpenID – evangelist, issued what’s being called a “manifesto” to the social networking community. What’s it about? It boils down to identity portability.

Called “Thoughts on the Social Graph”, the writers define it as “the global mapping of everybody and how they're related” (for more details click here). The problem is, to my mind, the short attention span of today’s young people, whether it’s the tweens and teens on MySpace or the college kids and twenty-somethings on Facebook. Or the middle-aged marketing types on LinkedIn, for that matter. Everyone, it seems, is chasing the Next Big Thing in social networking, and is spending an inordinate amount of time inputting personal information to each site’s profile of them. But that’s not all.

As Fitzpatrick mentions, you also have to have usernames, passwords, a way to invite friends, add friends, remove friends, characterize the friendship, and on, and on. He concludes the problem definition with: “If I had to declare the problem statement succinctly, it'd be: People are getting sick of registering and re-declaring their friends on every site.” They aren’t looking for a large identity silo, though: “…the graph needs to exist outside of Facebook. MySpace also has a lot of good data, but not all of it. Likewise LiveJournal, Digg, Twitter, Zooomr, Pownce, Friendster, Plaxo, the list goes on. More important is that any one of these sites shouldn't own it; nobody/everybody should. It should just exist.”

Well, it does just exist, and we can move it back and forth. But what the boys really want to do is to automate the process.

Brad and David’s answer to this problem is to begin to create protocols that will enable “…open source software (with copyrights held by a nonprofit) which collects, merges, and redistributes the graphs from all other social network sites into one global aggregated graph. This is then made available to other sites (or users) via both public APIs (for small/casual users) and downloadable data dumps, with an update stream / APIs, to get iterative updates to the graph (for larger users).” Eventually, they see the system becoming distributed and decentralized.

It isn’t a bad idea, but it also isn’t really a new idea. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, Novell thought about an all-encompassing worldwide directory more than 10 years ago. Microsoft broached the idea at the end of the last century. Distributed, decentralized directory systems such as Novell’s DigitalME, IBM’s UDDI protocol or Dan Bricklin’s SMBmeta (see “The universal, self-publishing, loosely-coupled personal directory”) aren’t really new. They’ve been kicking around since before Recordon went to kindergarten, as a matter of fact. They’ve never caught on, but that doesn’t mean they won’t this time. And you can be in on it. See the Google Group that’s been started, or plan to come to the Data Sharing Summit in the San Francisco area, Sept. 7-8. You could help shape the Next Big Thing.

Upcoming Events:

* Sept. 24-26 - Directory Experts Conference, Brussels

* Sept. 24-26 - Digital ID World, San Francisco

* Oct. 9–11 - Smart Card Alliance Annual Conference, Boston

Check the upcoming events calendar at the Identity Management Journal and let me know of any I’ve overlooked.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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