"Open CI is a project where we'll propose an open data standard for the inter-operability of social networks. As in: i have my profile here and i can become friends with someone on another (participating) network. Together we can participate in a project that is described in a third context.
Mediamatic are currently developing a first version with 6 participating networks that are all based on AnyMeta, the framework that Reboot and Picnic conferences and many others are using too. According to planning the first sharing networks will go up in 2008."
Mark Worrell interviewed by Ulises Mejias:
"The basic idea is that people should be the owners of their own data. It’s a very popular thing to say these days, but how true is it? When you go to another social network site, you should be able to move your data there, and you should own it, and you should be able to remove it if you want to. Having a presence in a particular network does not necessarily mean using it as your homebase. When we look at the social networks we launch, they are very little — couple of thousand members perhaps. In some networks the overlap of members consists of a dozen or so persons. In other networks, the overlap is close to 80% of members. So what we want to do, using existing technology, is to allow a user to choose their homebase, somewhere, where they feel most at home. And we don’t care if this is in an institute’s social network, or our network, or their personal web site, or their chess club — whatever the place where they feel most at home. They could have more than one homebase, of course: one for work, another one for their personal life, etc. And from there you start using that identity. When you go to another website, you say: I am Marc from Mediamatic. I am not Marc from PICNIC. I stay Marc from Mediamatic when I go to PICNIC. That is how I choose to represent myself.
This technology is not new. It’s called Open ID. The first step in the sharing of profiles, sharing of identity, is Open ID. Then we have other technologies to allow you to start moving a kind of summary. Because technology dictates that you should have some local information at each network, otherwise it doesn’t perform well, it moves too slow. You want to be able to expedite searches, etc., so you have to have a kind of representation on that site. But this is just a kind of bookmark, of reference to your real identity. So you can truly join in in the fun at each network –write articles, make friends, etc.– but your homebase is wherever you choose.
OBSTACLES TO FEDERATING SOCIAL NETWORKS
UM: When you say that individuals should own their own data, I’m thinking about some of the obstacles that currently prevent that from happening, specially when it comes to commercial social networks. As I am sure you know, there are social network sites (such as Facebook, for instance) which basically have policies that say that whatever you put in the network belongs to them. So your data is not really your data.
MW: “All your data are belong to us.”
UM: Is that going to be an issue in the attempt to federate social network data?
MW: It might be an issue for them! We here at Mediamatic, and I personally, believe that there’s a more viable long-term future in very small-scale networks. There is always a place where you feel most at home. And I don’t really see a difference between the place you feel at home in real life and in virtual life.
UM: So you think when the federation of profiles becomes possible people will basically abandon the large-scale commercial social networks, with all their restrictions, to find a homebase in their own small-scale social networks, where they have the freedom to own their data?
MW: I don’t think they will abandon those networks, because they have many social connections there, but I do expect that there will be a slow migration to places where the management of their homebase is more personal and private, a place that’s more their own, instead of this big thing. Because in the end, like you say, these commercial social networks are huge and impersonal, there’s a big corporation behind it. Do we want these corporations to own our data? I don’t. It’s my data, I put a lot of effort into creating it. So I should be able to control it. Why would I want to create something and publish it in a place that I don’t know how long it will be around? Right now Facebook is big. But where were they five years ago, and where will they be 5 years from now?
UM: I’m still interested in the reasons why federating social networks might be resisted by the corporations that own (or will own, if patterns of media conglomeration continue) the largest social networks. In your articles you refer to these commercial networks as ‘walled gardens,’ and you argue that those walls should be brought down. But the thing is that from the point of view of the corporation, walled gardens make a lot of sense! Corporations have a couple of reasons for sticking to the walled garden model and blocking federation. First, these sites depend on growing memberships (more eyes exposed to advertising); they try to get users to their networks and abandon the competition’s. So social network federation might be seen as a deterrent for users to abandon one network (think Friendster) and move to the latest one. Second, social network federation might do to advertising in social network sites what RSS did to advertising in blogs: provide a way to focus on the content and strip away the advertising. Will commercial social network sites have a problem with all this?
MW: As far as the current business model goes, yes they will have a problem. But I think it’s also something you can’t stop. I think in the end there will be more success in supporting lots of different networks that are very focused. These sites also bring in a lot of advertising value. Advertising for a chess set in a chess club site is of more value than advertising in Facebook. This doesn’t mean that the entity hosting everything, supporting the whole infrastucture, needs to be divided into different companies. It can be one company. But the place where people meet, where people gather, however, is better off being small. Of course, right now you can have groups in Facebook. But the chess club doesn’t want to be a group in Facebook, it wants to be its own thing, with its clunky interface –people want to build it themselves. For the people who don’t want to do it themselves, who want to get it off the shelf, the commercial sites will continue to cater to them.
UM: For the first group of people, who want to do it themselves, how come we haven’t seen an open source social network platform?
MW: We will see it, no doubt about that. It’s been a bit hard, because the standards are not there, the pieces don’t work nicely together. But it’s just a matter of time. Just look at what has happened with open source blogging software."