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June 27, 2007
Why Social Networks Need to Interconnect
 

As the marketing and communications world adapts to the potential of working with MySpace and Facebook, it should be noted that end-users will want to interconnect their various social networks. This desire will drive a battle between open and closed systems, which will culminate with vendors having to publicly declare how they think of their members—as entities to exploit or end-users to enable and empower. This battle is important to understand, as humans are migratory beasts and they will not be satisfied with sitting in one place too long.

MySpace and Facebook are data silos of centralized social networks filled with unaware members stuck in a situation where all of their "social capital" is locked up within these data silos. But there’s a fundamental change afoot that will educate end-users to their rights as owners of their own profile data and content. User-centric identification has become a major area of concern and focus throughout the industry. Open standards like OpenID will unite a disparate world of distributed islands of functionality.

Once social network members have invested in relationships, uploaded photos, blogged, created bookmarks and shared videos, they create what is known as "social capital." This social capital represents all of what they have invested, and it means a lot to most of these end-users. So it is imperative for end-users to be able to take this social capital with them—as they move on to new, greener pastures or the latest trend.

 

One key competitive advantage that will arise over the next few years is whether social networks are "open" or not. The battle between closed or open will mean that some end-users will be able to move their profiles and their content wherever they wish to go—while others will be stuck in the so-called "data silos."

The new lock-in—will be no lock-in.

This battle over open and closed will take itself into the world of portals, game machines, the living room and even mobile phones. No aspect of one’s digital "lifestyle" will be untouched by this battle. Software vendors will be forced to choose. Do they attempt to monetize and exploit their networks' members and prevent them from moving their profile data and list of friends to other networks—or do they allow them to freely move?

At first glance, logic reads that all of these vendors will remain closed. But what happens if some of the major networks start to open up?

Yahoo is opening up as a competitive advantage over Google. Microsoft is even considering opening up now. My bet is that Google and Apple will remain closed—even longer than MySpace.

But the leader in openness right now is Facebook. It has open APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to allow all sorts of great mash-ups to work with Facebook members' profiles in new and interesting ways. Facebook APIs can be used to access members’ lists of friends and photos, and even "poke" at them. These APIs have given birth to "social networking APIs."

My company, Broadband Mechanics, has a white label social networking platform—PeopleAggregator—which can be used by any brand, media company or corporation to build its own social network. Baked into PeopleAggregator is the notion of open standards and social networking APIs. All software will be "social" in the future, and PeopleAggregator can slide up right next to legacy applications, websites and services and add social networking and blogging to the mix of features and functionalities offered to end-users.

Social networking and blogging are becoming commodities. In the future, all operating systems and start pages will have social networking baked in. But we have to make sure to allow end-users to move their data freely between networks.


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Marc Canter was the co-founder of MacroMind, which became Macromedia. He helped created the world’s first multimedia authoring system, multimedia player, and cross-platform development system. Marc developed interactive music videos, scalable content and (what is known today as) Ajax systems in the '90s. 

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