Getting more social on the World Wide Web

Imagine that you wanted to move to a new cloud storage provider but were not permitted to carry your stored data with you. Certainly that would be unthinkable, wouldn’t it (there could be the occasional hurdle but that’s another matter)? Your data belongs to you and goes with you wherever you go.

Could the same be said about your social data? If you choose to leave a social network, can you easily carry your connections and numerous interactions (likes, comments …) with you? Clearly things are different here.

Cloud providers are of course citizens of the World Wide Web – the network of web pages and their relationships with each other – and follow its rules. As the web’s standards organization, the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) holds sway over the WWW. Largely open the web is though Google certainly plays an outsize role.

On the other hand, there is the Social Web: the network of people and their relationships with each other. This is the web dominated by social networking services: Facebook, Twitter, Google+ et al. To say that Facebook owns most of it would probably not be an exaggeration. The social graph shows the relationships between people, a term that was popularized by Facebook themselves. Each social service has its own social graph and the extent to which they talk to each other is determined by each individual network.

Tim Berners-Lee coined the term Giant Global Graph to represent a decentralized web, a much more democratic form of the current Social Web if you will. Where people can interact with their social networks without requiring the intervention of organizations such as Facebook or Twitter: a vision that apparently remains largely unfulfilled today.

Basically Facebook overwhelmingly dominates the Social Web. As of May 2012, it had 900 million users. Twitter came next with 555 million users. Not much you can do on the Social Web without tethering yourself to one of these companies. Today’s Social Web is pretty much a closed affair with the exception of the APIs that the networks provide and more crucially control. For example Google launched the social graph API that made available information about public connections between people. And then they closed the API. Google and some others launched OpenSocial that provides common APIs for building social applications that obviously work only among the participating networks. Facebook has its own platform with its APIs for creating applications for accessing data in Facebook.

Seemingly the Social Web is open only to the extent that the major social networks permit it to be.

Consider a scenario where if you had to create a website, you had to apply to Google for permission. Instead today anyone can create web pages, host them on a web server connected to the Internet, obtain a domain name, and so on. Things like DHCP and DNS then perform their magic and very soon you are off and running.

So what are the implications? In an open Social Web, perhaps anyone could set up a social networking service and the relationships between people across such services would be open for all to see. Of course privacy is another matter altogether. But keeping that aside for now, the implications appear to be staggering. For one it would likely be a marketer’s dream. Finding out who needs your products and services, who are the influencers, should all be much more easily discoverable. Obviously there will be huge impacts in other areas like law enforcement and so on.

It does seem like it is time for a makeover…so that the Social Web can live as one: the World Wide Social Web.


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