Sunday, October 12, 2008

Web 2.0 Expo: Tying It All Together: Implementing the Open Web by Joseph Smarr

The final talk I attended at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City was appropriately titled Tying It All Together: Implementing the Open Web given by Joseph Smarr of Plaxo. [See also his blog and his Plaxo page.]. His PowerPoint presentation is here.

Being on the staff of Plaxo, one would think he'd promulgate Plaxo as the answer to everything - but he didn't (and that was welcome). Although Plaxo was clearly present in some of his slides, his goal of achieving a broader topic was what made his talk very good. He really believes that we are close to wiring the web to become the social web, so that information people have filled out on social websites can be easily transported to others. As usual, I take any responsibility for any faulty transcription of his talk.
There is an important fundamental change going on the web: The entire web is going social and the social is going open. Here are some of the open Social Web building blocks: OpenId, Open Social, Jabber, microformats.

How does it all fit together? What will new Social Web look like?

Today the Social Web is broken: we have to register anew for each site. We must re-establish our relationship, our profile, etc. It's a pain (and disuades one from trying out new sites). Current social applications have limited options. At least more and more people have the same info somewhere on the web (in various sites).

But we know how to make things better. The new building blocks of social apps can establish important identification of people and their relationships. Here's how. There are thee significant ways to define yourself in relation to the Social Web:
  1. Who I am
  2. Who I know
  3. What's going on
1. Who I Am. You create create a lasting, portable, durable online identity. For example, OpenID allows you to link profile data between sites.

Then consolidate your online identify with me-links: rel=me (XFN)
You can use Google Social Graph API to see what your users said about themselves.
In Plaxo it's called the Pulse Stream - a stream of all your contacts and what they're doing on the web.

2. Who I know.

You build and maintain real relationships. Sometimes it's just a way to keep in touch with already known people. Traditional ways of friending people can now give way to these techniques:
  • Contact APIs (ex. find people from your address book), and leverage previously established relationships (learned from address books)
  • OAuth - share private data between trusted sites.
  • Friends-list portability - to create continuous discovery across multiple sites. (Most robots just scrape just once.)
Some examples: Flickr and Gmail - allows one to import your address books to set up network of existing friends. Dopplr also has a unique way of doing this.

3. What's Going On

Staying up-to-date with people you know. OpenSocial -- You can build apps that can run anywhere. Aggregates activities all over the web - brings all feeds together. Examples: Plaxo, Friendster, Orkut, Hi5, Myspace.

RSS/Atom -- open standard for aggregating open events. one can syndicate activity with others.

Jabber - XMPP - real-time update stream between sites.

Imagine a picture of how it might be: You want to interact with many different websites. So there's an emerging service layer between you and the sites.

The Social Web Ecosystem:

Who I am: Identity providers
Who I know: Social Graph providers
What I know: Content aggregators

Social Graph (i.e. Network) Providers will be emerging.

The virtual cycle of social discovery: John checks out a new site, finds people he knows there (using his address book/friends list), then creates some content and shares it on the site; his friend Joe then discovers that content and site and continues the cycle.

There are hurdles to overcome:
* How does friends list portability work?
* Tell the site your Social Graph Provider: XRDS Simple (discovery tool) + OAuth (access - method to interact with protected data)
* Site fetches your data to find local friends (no standards way to do this yet)
* Site lets you connect to people you want - can periodically look for new matches

The missing link: Portable contacts.

Currently there are efforts underway to standardize contact schema, discovery/auth, and common operators. There's a focus on ease and speed of adoption with active involvement from large and small players

For more info see (one of Smarr's projects)

Picture of how it will work:
* User signs on with OpenID
* Site tries to get contacts with API - no go
* Site sends user through OAuth flow to grant access
* Users now access users' contacts data via API+

The future of the Social Web will really be where all interconnections will work smoothly.

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