Indoor camping and the Social Graph
I've recently returned from a very enjoyable and educational trip to California where I was honored to be invited to attend the Social Graph Foo Camp. Although I do have to say that while I found the whole thing very exciting I was also, at times, left realising just how far behind some of the conversations I have become, it really is amazing how rapidly the issues and technology within this space are developing - and that's in the context of a fast moving industry.
It was, however, clear that the really big issues are social not technological: user expectations, data ownership and portability. Although a key piece of the technology puzzle in all this is the establishment of XFN and FOAF which are going to play an ever increasingly important role in glueing different social networks together. And with the launch of Google's Social Graph API (released under a Creative Commons license by the way) data portability is going to really explode; but with it expect more "Scoblegate" like incidents.
But the prizes for getting this right are great, as illustrated by this clip of Joseph Smarr of Plaxo presenting on friends list portability and who owns the data in social networks.
For my part what I took away from this and other discussion is that although on the surface moving data between one social network and another is no different from copying a business card into Outlook people's expectations make it different. People don't (yet) expect the data they enter in one site to suddenly appear in another. But they do expect to be able to easily find their friends within a new network. Google's Social Graph API will make it easier - but there will be a price, as Tim O'Reilly points out:
"Google's Social Graph API... will definitively end "security by obscurity" regarding people and their relationships, as well as opening up the social graph to "rel=me" spammers. The counter-argument is that all this data is available anyway, and that by making it more visible, we raise people's awareness and ultimately their behavior."
Tied to all of this, of course, is the rise of OpenID, the open and decentralized identity system, and OAuth an open protocol to allow secure API authentication between application. Both of which appear to be central to most peoples' plans for the coming year.
So what were the other highlights? For me I'm really exited by Tom Coates and Rabble's latest Yahoo! project: Fire Eagle; which allows you to share you location with friends, other websites or services.
You can think of Fire Eagle as a location brokerage service. Via open APIs other people can write applications that update Fire Eagle with your location so that further applications that can then use it. So for example, someone might write an application that runs on your mobile that triangulates your position based on the location of the transmitters before sending the data to Fire Eagle. You could then run an application on your phone that lets you know if your friends are near by, what restaurants are in your area or where the nearest train or tube station is.
Obviously what Fire Eagle also provides is lots of security so you can control who and what applications have access to your location data. I can't wait to see what people end up doing with Fire Eagle and I'm hoping that we can come up with some interesting applications too.
Finally, XMPP, which I have to say caught me a bit by surprise. If you've not come across it before XMPP it's a messaging and presence protocol developed by Jabber and now used by Google Talk, Jaiku and Apple's iChat amongst others (with a lot more clients on the way if last weekend was anything to go by).
XMPP is a much more efficient protocol than HTTP for two way messaging because you don't require your application to check in with the servers periodically - instead the server sends a signal via XMPP when new information is published. And there's no need to limit that communication to person to person - XMPP can also be used for essentially machine-to-machine Instant Messaging which means you have real time communication between machines.
So based on last weekend's Foo Camp it looks like XMPP, OpenID, OAuth are all going to be huge in 2008, Google's Social Graph API and related technologies (FOAF and XFN) will result in some headaches while peoples' understanding and expectations settle down but it will be worth it as we move towards a world of data portability.