Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

A modest proposal

Posted by shannonclark on February 3, 2004

or I’m not the first but yet another idea on social networking software/sites

I am a part of more sites that I probably should be, and definitely a part of more sites than is useful or helpful to me.

At the same time, I am a serious (and I think effective) networker. Nearly every interesting thing in my life is a result, at least in large part, to networking, and to my ongoing ability to be a bridge between many different networks and communities.

Thus, I am a “foodie”, an entrepreneur, a technologist, a philosopher, a writer, and many other categories each with at times very different sets of people, many of whom primarily interact with each other.

Online there are now at least a half dozen decent, and many more not as good, online “social networks”. Some identified specifically as such, some adopting the term, others discovering that their business is, in fact, about social networks at least to an extent. But all of them offer a closed garden view of networks, and nearly all require you to invite your network to join and/or to discover those in your “network” who are already on that system.

This past weekend I wrote, or at least modified, a small, lightweight online social network tool – this one specific to the political campaigning process (designed to allow people to invite their own connections to join in a campaign, the software is notable just for some small technical points (using vcards to avoid typing, following data privacy issues). As it currently is it is “okay” – but I do hope to add some features to it in the upcoming days and weeks that will make it much better. From a technology standpoint it is based on Drupal/DeanSpace (and it was written for a Dean supporter, though I hope that it will be useful for others in future elections as well).

As I have been thinking about writing this software, and as I have been contemplating checking how things are at the many online networks that I belong to. a thought occured to me.

Why not set up a “network” that was, on some level, “all inclusive”. That is, it somehow (insert a bit of black box tech here) integrated at least the following networks and could handle many others in the future:

Web based social networks – such as Ryze.com; Ecademy; Tribe; Spoke; LinkedIn; Orkut – here by “handle” – manage your profile info on these sites; watch friends (and perhaps “friends of friends”; notify/list messages; consolidate group discussions on these sites (tribes, networks, communities the terms vary); perhaps provide an interface to send messages via that tool

Software based communication tools – IM such as AIM; ICQ; MS Messenger; Yahoo!. As well, ‘groups’ such as Yahoo! Groups and others

Web based discussion boards – especially those with registrations (again offering updating capability), but here watching at least for replies to your messages/threads you replied to and potentially offering an interface to read other threads and even post replies (ideally also forking and archiving them on another site – more on this in a moment)

Blogs – RSS aggregation, but also management of registration on group blog (or bloglike sites such as Slashdot.org). Here again it is “replies to my comments” as well as “new posts by my friends”

Extending into the future, such an interface might also accomodate phone services, including a few that are nearly impossible today. For example, combining the “notification” of an IM client to allow business partners, friends and loved ones the capability of opening up an audio (and perhaps eventually a video) channel with you automatically when the two systems detect you are both active and online. Some such channels might be nearly permanent – offering a shared working environment even if halfway around the globe. Others might only be created as needed to replicate the instant communication of being in a room together at times when that is impossible.

As well such a system might combine and consolidate the information in other networks/tools as well the information in many other sites/sources to handle calendar synching between you and your network, as well as to suggest events from the small (meetup) to the large (conference) that you and your network of people might want to attend. In some cases the smart version of this tool would isolate a group of people from your contacts to enter into an active discussion with around a given event/conference.

This is a vision of a tool, likely installed on a machine – but probably also manageable via a webpage, that rather than competing and assuming that a single clear “winner” will emege, opperates on the assumption that many winners across many sectors and groups will emerge. That various tools serve different audiances and needs. (Friendster for getting a date the most modern way – vs. LinkedIn for getting an introduction to a hiring manager at a company you wish to work for.

Such a tool has to be very capable of handling vagueness and inconsistancy. It needs to be open in its workings without being overwelming (for example providing some capacity to drill into any bit of data it shows and identify where it got it and why it showed it (so which network it was pulled from, how certain it is that the name mentioned is the same as was noted as a friend from Ryze.com

Other people have had a similar suggestion so this initial entry is just capturing my first thoughts on it. I hope to expand on this further and post on it to MeshForum.org when I have the time. At that time as well I will flesh out my post with links.

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