Posted in: social networking

Connecting Social Networks – I Just Don’t Get the Fuss

I have been reading a lot of posts lately, including this one on the O’Reilly blog about how great it would be if we could either a) federate identity across the various social networking applications that exist today or b) socially-enable applications (phone, IM, email, etc) that I already use.

My hunch is that none of the major social networks really want to enable this federation. Why would they? Yes, I agree that some segment of their user base would want the ability to login one place and be able to manage all of their identities across the many networks to which they belong. But why would a social networking site owner want to participate in such a thing? My sense is that right now everyone in this space is still trying to become “the place” for some segment of their users’ lives (dating, professional, activities, alumni, group affiliation, etc) – making federation easy would undermine this land grab. As long as folks have this land grab mentality, I don’t see any strong incentive for any social network to join such a federation.

We have seen this movie before. This reminds me a lot of what happened when instant messaging started to grow. Users clamored for a solution that would remove the need to log into 3 different networks (AOL, Yahoo!, and MSN) and eventually they got one in Trillian (and later Meebo). The thing to remember, assuming that this analogy is valid, is that the IM vendors fought this integration tooth and nail for a long time because each of them wanted to be the dominant network. It wasn’t until the market share land grab abated that people started looking at ways to federate and interconnect systems. I struggle to see why social networks are so much different given where we are in the development of this market.

I also remain unconvinced that the vast majority of users want to interconnect all of their identities. I don’t know that your average LinkedIn user wants his/her account linked with his/her Friendster, MySpace, or Bebo page. I also don’t know that interconnectivity/federation is the issue. As a user, I don’t really care which networks my friends use. I do, however, want to know which network that user views as his/her homebase given what I’m trying to do. For example, if I have a friend who’s on Facebook, Friendster, and MySpace, it would be helpful for me to get some sense as to which of these networks the person uses the most. I continue to struggle to understand the value in simply federating or aggregating a user’s identity across multiple networks.

For what it’s worth, I think that my IM experience is already social enough — I’m not sure what additional layers need to be added on top or what functionality needs to be enhanced to social-enable my IM. What could be more social than talking to people you already know?

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