Digital Identity, microformats, Open source, Raw Materials, Society & economy, Technology, Web building

OpenSocial and Address Book 2.0: Putting People into the Protocol

Obey by Shepard FaireyI wonder if Tim O’Reilly knows something that he’s not telling the rest of us. Or maybe he knows something that the rest of us know, but that we haven’t been able to articulate yet. Who knows.

In any case, he’s been going on about this “Address Book 2.0for awhile, and if you ask me, it has a lot to do with Google’s upcoming announcement of a set of protocols, formats and technologies they’ve dubbed OpenSocial.

[Aside: I’ll just point out that I like the fact that the name has “open” in it (even if “open” will be the catchphrase that replaces the Web 2.0 meme) because it means that in order to play along, you have to be some shade of open. I mean, if Web 2.0 was all about having lots of bits and parts all over the place and throwing them together just-in-time in the context of a “social” experience, then being “open” will be what separates those who are caught up and have been playing along from those who have been asleep at the wheel for the past four years. Being “open” (or the “most” open) is the next logical stage of the game, where being anything other than open will be met with a sudden and painless death. This is a good thing™ for the web, but remember that we’re in the infancy of the roll-out here, and mistakes (or brilliant insights) will define what kind of apps we’re building (or able to build) for the next 10 years.]

Let me center the context here. A few days ago, I wrote about putting people in the protocol. I was talking about another evolution that will come alongside the rush to be open (I should note that “open” is an ongoing process, not an endpoint in and of itself). This evolution will be painful for those who resist but will bring great advantage to those who embrace it. It’s pretty simple and if you ask me, it lies at the heart of Tim’s Address Book 2.0 and Google’s OpenSocial; in a word, it’s people.

Before I get into that, let me just point out what this is not about. Fortunately, in his assessment of “What to Look for from Google’s Social Networking Platform“, David Card at Jupiter Research spelled it out in blindingly incorrect terms:

As an analyst who used to have the word “Unix” on his business card, I’ve seen a lot of “open” “consortia” fail miserably. Regular readers know my Rule of Partnership: For a deal to be important, two of the following three must occur:

– Money must change hands
– There must be exclusivity
– Product must ship

“Open” “consortia” aren’t deals. That’s one of the reasons they fail. The key here would be “Product must ship.”

This completely misses the point. This is why the first bubble was so lame. So many people had third-world capital in their heads and missed what’s new: the development, accumulation and exchange of first-world social capital through human networks.

Now, the big thing that’s changed (or is changing) is the emphasis on the individual and her role across the system. Look at MyBlogLog. Look at Automattic’s purchase of Gravatar. Look at the sharp rise in OpenID adoption over the past two years. The future is in non-siloed living man! The future is in portable, independent identities valid, like Visa, everywhere that you want to be. It’s not just about social network fatigue and getting fed up with filling out profiles at every social network you join and re-adding all your friends. Yeah, those things are annoying but more importantly, the fact that you have to do it every time just to get basic value from each system means that each has been designed to benefit itself, rather than the individuals coming and going. The whole damn thing needs to be inverted, and like recently rejoined ant segments dumped from many an ant farm, the fractured, divided, shattered into a billion fragments-people of the web must rejoin themselves and become whole in the eyes of the services that, what else?, serve them!

Imagine this: imagine designing a web service where you don’t store the permanent records of facets of people, but instead you simply build services that serve people. In fact, it’s no longer even in your best interest to store data about people long term because, in fact, the data ages so rapidly that it’s next to useless to try to keep up with it. Instead, it’s about looking across the data that someone makes transactionally available to you (for a split second) and offering up the best service given what you’ve observed when similar fingerprint-profiles have come to your system in the past. It’s not so much about owning or storing Address Book 2.0 as much as being ready when all the people that populate the decentralized Address Book 2.0 concept come knocking at your door. Are you going to be ready to serve them immediately or asking them to fill out yet another profile form?

Maybe I’m not being entirely clear here. Admittedly, these are rough thoughts in my head right now and I’m not really self-editing. Forgive me.

But I think that it’s important to say something before the big official announcement comes down, so that we can pre-contextualize this and realize the shift that’s happening even as the hammer drops.

Look, if Google and a bunch of chummy chums are going to make available a whole slew of “social graph” material, we had better start realizing what this means. And we had better start realizing the value that our data and our social capital have in this new eco-system. Forget page views. Forget sticky eyeballs. With OpenID, with OAuth, with microformats, with, yes, with FOAF and other formats — hell with plain ‘ol scrapable HTML! — Google and co. will be amassing a social graph the likes of which has yet to be seen or twiddled upon (that’s a technical term). It means that we’re [finally] moving towards a citizen-centric web and it means great things for the web. It means that things are going to get interesting, for Facebook, for MySpace, for Microsoft, for Yahoo! (who recently closed 360, btw!) And y’know, I don’t know what Spiderman would think of OpenSocial or of what else’s coming down the pipe, but I’m sure in any case, he’d caution that, with great power comes great responsibility.

I’m certainly excited about this, but it’s not all about Google. Moreover, OpenSocial is simply an acknowledgment that things have to (and have) change(d). What comes next is anyone’s guess, but as far as I’m concerned, Tim’s been more or less in the ballpark so far, it just won’t necessarily be about owning the Address Book 2.0, but what it means when it’s taken for granted as a basic building block in the vast clockwork of the open social web.

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20 thoughts on “OpenSocial and Address Book 2.0: Putting People into the Protocol

  1. Hi Chris, do you know where the data lives? You imply Google owns the bits we generate, similar to how they own the data associated with our “Year 2038” cookies, our search history, the AdSense deliveries to our browsers, and so on. Do you know for sure yet if that’s the case, or are we still waiting for info on the actual privacy implications of this initiative? tx.

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  7. Chris, totally agree. The problem with apps hosted INSIDE social networks is that you get data silos – not everyone I know is in Myspace, and they never will be.

    Instead, we need apps that work ACROSS social networks, gathering the relevant friends and details from each to provide the complete picture – e.g. a complete address book.

    Writing one of these apps is not about data storage, it’s about data aggregation from all across the web. OpenSocial gets us some of the way there, but the vision is still not complete.

  8. One more point – there’s a technical link between OpenID and OpenSocial, which is each person’s URI.

    Imagine if the URI that represents me in OpenID is the SAME URI that provides my OpenSocial details.

    Then whenever I log to an app, it automatically gets controlled access to my details. And I can log in either with my “corporate” LinkedIn URI, or my “groovy” MySpace URI, and the application will see the appropriate details.

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  10. @John: You raise a good point, but I suppose I’m imagining a semi-distant future where the transfer costs of data moves to almost nil, so that you can multiple original sources of data strewn about and still be able to access and make calculations on that data on the fly.

    I also imagine that your identity provider will both store and federate a lot of data on your behalf, controlling access with revokable OAuth tokens and OpenID-set permissions. It’ll be no different than your credit card today — where a bank stores and “federates” money to the places where you make payments or take out money from ATMs. (Hence a post I’m writing called “Data Capital”).

    In any case, we’re a long ways off from what I’m talking about, but in a citizen-centric web, you get to choose who has access to your data and for how long because you choose your identity provider (hopefully, wisely).

    @Chris Jay: I agree… we’re essentially countering the problem that siloed-email servers had decades ago when they didn’t intermingle. Since social networks are essentially glorified email-sending machines, it’s only logical that we begin to be able to send messages (and other types of data and functionality) betwixt them.

    As for using specific URIs for different identities, this is exactly how it’s supposed to work! And I’m glad that you make that point, because that, again, is how you’ll be able to slice your identit[ies] and keep them distinct, but also under your own control. OpenID does provide for personas, but if you want to maintain completely separate identities, you can do so with uncorroborated identifiers.

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  14. Hey Chris-

    Now that OpenSocial has been stewing for a while in the public sphere, I’d love to get your take on what it’s all about and whether it lives up to the hype.

    BTW, I completely agree with your “just build services for people” argument. Our grandchildren aren’t going to put up with maintaining more than a few “profiles”.

  15. Hey Chris, great writeup. I’d be interested in hearing your viewpoint on OpenSocial now that it’s had a bit of time to stew.

    I completely agree with your idea about “creating services for people”. Our grandchildren will think maintaining multiple profiles is as ridiculous and tedious as “balancing your checkbook.”

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