Sunday, April 08, 2007

Social networking site aggregators

I was expecting something like this:
Loopster Makes Friends of Social Networks. Techcrunch profiles efforts in creating "meta-social-networking" sites which try to transcend the limitations of having multiple disparate and incompatible social networking sites in existence. Various strategies of aggregation are discussed, with the featured site being a thing called Loopster

From the Techcrunch article:
Once you’ve registered with Loopster, you hand over your credentials for MySpace, LinkedIn, Facebook, Live Journal, or your Blogger user name and click “Add”. This gets Loopster’s crawlers working.
Just hand over your credentials? Just like that? I would've thought there were privacy and security concerns to worry about. Not dealing with those issues is one way of dealing with those issues I guess. Then again, efforts that actually try to deal with these issues, like OpenID, don't seem in any hurry to get off the ground. Then there's the issue that the OpenID approach relies on co-operation of the social networking site to work, while Loopster's approach just needs a user's username/password combo to access any site that they can support, no site co-operation required. The Techcrunch article actually mentions Myspace's active resistance to this sort of arrangement:"MySpace doesn’t have an API for its site, and has been known to send some nasty C&D letters to people who crawl their network."

These meta-social-networking sites highlight an incompatibility between the desires of social networkers and the desires of the companies that maintain social networking sites. Your typical social networking site user wants as wide a selection of people to meet and services to use as possible. Your typical social networking site company wants people to meet other people on, and use the services of, its own site and no others to as great an extent as possible. The tendency for new social networking sites is for segmentation and specialisation, like the specialised services for dog-lovers, families etc mentioned in the Techcrunch article. I don't think that's what users want at all.

What users seem to want is compatibility between sites, but the sites themselves rarely if ever offer tools that facilitate this. Even where cross-site tools exist within a social networking site, the tendency is to use them in a way that promotes one site at the expense of others. Vox, for example, allows automatic crossposting to other blogs but defaults to a setting which posts only part of the entry with a "read the rest of this entry on Vox" link appended (an option to cross-post the whole post has since been made available at the request of Vox users, although it's not the default behaviour).

The whole compatibility issue may become moot if Myspace continues its role as the Windows 95 of the social networking world and becomes the only social networking site that anybody uses, but I'm sort of hoping that doesn't happen. It'd be nice to see consumers able to make their own choices about how they want to segment their social spaces instead of having it foisted on them by incompatible social networking regimes. It'd be nice too for people to be able to start using new and possibly superior services without having to address the "but everyone I know is on Myspace, not [different service]" issue. Vox, as noted above, sort of does this by easing migration to the new service through convenient cross-posting, but even Vox tends to sandbox its services by, for example, only allowing comments on the Vox blogs from registered Vox users.

One of the commenters in the Techcrunch article wondered if the meta-social-networking site would meet the same unsuccessful fate as the meta-search engine. I don't think it will. A meta-search engine doesn't really add any function to that already provided by a search engine, but a meta-social-networking sites actually provide a necessary functionality that social networking sites don't (won't?) provide in their current form: that of convenient cross-site communication.

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