Social Web

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"The Social Web refers to an open global distributed data sharing network similar to today's World Wide Web, except instead of linking documents, the Social Web will link people, organizations, and concepts."

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According to the W3C Social Web Incubator Group‎:

"The Social Web is a set of relationships that link together people over the Web. While the best known current social networking sites on the Web limit themselves to relationships between people with accounts on a single site, the Social Web should extend across the entire Web. Just as people can call each other no matter which telephone provider they belong to, just as email allows people to send messages to each other irrespective of their e-mail provider, and just as the Web allows links to any website, so the Social Web should allow people to create networks of relationships across the entire Web, while giving people the ability to control their own privacy and data.

The Social Web is not just about relationships, but about the applications and innovations that can be built on top of these relationships. Social-networking sites and other user-generated-content services on the Web have a potential to be enablers of innovation, but cannot achieve this potential without open and royalty-free standards for data portability, identity, and application development." (


"Over the course of the SWXG’s activity the, approximately thirty, participants on the conference calls discussed a wide variety of topics and heard from over thirty invited guests from within and outside the W3C. We conclude that while the Social Web is a space of innovation, it is still not a "first-class" citizen of the Web: Social applications currently largely evolved as silos and thus implementations and integration are inconsistent, with little guarantees of privacy and enforcement of terms-of-service.

Further, the members of the XG conclude:

1. The Social Web does not suffer from a lack of potential standards. A large number of diverse groups have evolved data models, communication protocols, and data formats at tangents to one another, addressing a large number of communities, each of which has its own terminology and viewpoint.

2. While there has been a large amount of work done in this area, in terms of both current potential and standards, these tend to address basic issues around identity and portability, but do not address more complex and vital issues such as privacy, policy enforcement, and provenance. All of these issues are present scope for further research and the development of future standards.

3. The creation of a decentralized and federated Social Web, as part of Web architecture, is a revolutionary opportunity to provide both increased social data portability and enhanced end-user privacy.

4. One key to make ordinary users take advantage of a decentralized Social Web is to build identity and portability into the browser and other devices.

We respectfully recommend to the W3C areas of future work in which the W3C should play a pivotal role:

1. Investigating the benefits of existing identity solutions for the Web that would allow for a high-level of security, multiple identities, and that are decentralized in nature. This work should be coordinated with existing identity work.

2. Defining mappings between existing data-formats for social profiles on a semantic level, making sure that a common core is available in a consistent manner across various syntactic serializations (such as RDFa, JSON, and XML).

3. Making sure that future work on the Semantic Web can help standardize methods of tracking provenance, as well as defining best practices for finding suitable vocabularies needed to power the Social Web.

4. Beginning an activity investigating distributed privacy/policy languages that are capable of phrasing common "terms of service" rules, and licensing information for the Social Web.

5. Create a more "light-weight" and open process so that groups working on the Social Web feel welcome and are able to work with the W3C. This will allow for the W3C to tightly liaison with groups and other standards bodies working in the area of the Social Web.

This work could form the basis of new Working Groups, improved liaising with non-W3C efforts and standardization bodies, and increased co-ordination and focus on the Social Web among existing W3C working groups." (



"2010 has been a tumultuous year for the Social Web. However, the Social Web is not a new phenomenon that has no precedent, but the result of a popularization of existing technologies. Many social features were available over the Internet before the Web, ranging from the blog-like features of Engelbart's "Journal" system in NLS (oN-Line System, the second node of the Internet), messaging via e-mail and IRC, the Well (1984), and the "Member Profiles" of AOL. The "list of friends", that is ubiquitous on the Social Web, existed in the hand-authored links on the earliest webpages. The Web has always been social. As shown by this diagram below by Berners-Lee in his original 1989 proposal to create the World Wide Web, the Web from its inception was meant to include connections between not only hypertext documents, but the relationships between people.

What was missing was an easy-to-use interface to make finding people you know and sharing data with them easily accessible. A number of websites, ranging from (1995) to SixDegrees (1997), pioneered these features for ordinary users of the Web. Since the early days of the Web people that maintained their own homepages have been posting activity updates to their sites, and this has been pushed into the mainstream with the the development of user friendly blogging software (from "web logs") such as LiveJournal and Blogger in 1999. Innovations in this space allowed the general public to become more and more apt at blogging, and independent news sites such as Indymedia (1999) pioneered the notion of user-generated content management. However, these services remained fairly experimental up until after the collapse of the initial "dot-com" bubble. After this a rash of social networking sites like Friendster (2002), LinkedIn (2003), MySpace (2003), Orkut (2004), and Facebook (2004) took off, and eventually became the most popular sites on the Web. Starting with Flickr (2004) and Youtube (2005), user-generated content took over this newly re-invigorated Social Web. The launch of Twitter (2007), a micro-blogging site, which propagated updates to users' social networks, via desktop and mobile devices, showed another dominant trend in the Social Web. It was around this time that the concept of the Social Web became associated both with the aforementioned companies and with the wider "Web 2.0" paradigm. Today, the Social Web is becoming part of corporate communication portfolios and Web 2.0 companies start commercializing data from and about their users.

While the world remained incredibly geographically disparate over a number of these sites, as illustrated by this map, with many countries developing their own most popular social networking sites such as Hi5 in Japan and QQ in China, there has been an overall tendency towards users moving their profiles between services, such as users moving their profiles from Friendster to Myspace for example. This, in turn, led to a dismissive attitude by some that the most "popular" social networking sites would simply turn over every year or two. In a similar manner to how competition amongst search engines eventually led to the dominance of Google, Facebook rapidly rose to become a global leader in social networking. A number of major vendors began either purchasing social networking sites (such as the purchase of Blogger (2003) and Orkut (2007) by Google) and other companies like Yahoo! trying to roll their-own social networking sites like Yahoo! 360 (2005). Social Web features, such as comments and user-generated content, became intertwined with such phenomenon as Flickr for sharing photos and YouTube for sharing video. Today, it is a de-facto requirement for Web sites to have social features and for individuals and organizations to have a presence on popular social Web platforms. Yet the ways for web-sites to do so are currently fractured and have yet to be standardized.

While empowered by the compelling user experience of these social networking sites, the real victim of these data-silos has been the end-users. Social networking sites encourage users to put their data into the given proprietary platform, and have tended to make the portability of the user's own data to another site or even their home computer difficult if not impossible. Architects of new Social Web services and user-advocacy groups began to ask for the ability of users to move their data from platform to platform. The first technology created specifically for a portable social graph was the Friend-of-a-Friend vocabulary for the Semantic Web (FOAF) in 2001, and in 2005, a biannual gathering of developers started the Internet Identity Workshop from which standards like OpenID emerged. Momentum took off after Brad Fitzpatrick (formerly of Livejournal)'s post on "Thoughts on the Social Graph", together with David Recordon, in 2007. There was quickly following a number of initiatives like the DataPortability initiative, the Data Liberation Front at Google, and lately, the Federated Social Web initiative. This momentum continued to attract interest, however, at the same time an open and decentralized Social Web still seems distant and few users have actually left these data-silos. (@@QUESTION: Did OpenID really come out of the IIW).

Many social networking sites considered privacy and portability to be contradictory, insofar as Facebook used to deny users the ability to let data be portable outside its system due to concerns over user privacy, as their terms of service in 2006 stated that "We understand you may not want everyone in the world to have the information you share on Facebook; that is why we give you control of your information." In one particularly infamous incident, in 2008 blogger Robert Scoble wanted to make their information portable by copying his contacts from Facebook, but had his account disabled by Facebook. However, in 2009 there seemed to be little concern about issues of privacy and portability except amongst those deeply immersed in designing social networking platforms, with only 20 percent of users listing privacy as a primary concern motivating their choice in Social networking sites. Whilst the market for online social networking remains competitive, privacy has yet to emerge as a competitive advantage. Today, privacy is a secondary argument to stimulate new sign-ups. Widespread usability problems impede users to exercise effective control over their personal information on social networking sites, where permissive defaults are another threat to privacy. While Scott McNealy of SUN infamously remarked that "You have zero privacy anyway," recent studies show that youth have "an aspiration for increased privacy" and are equally concerned about privacy as adults [PEW REPORT!!].

As more people are adopting Web-enabled smartphones, with mobile users spending more minutes per day on social networking sites than the average PC user, in 2010 30% of smartphone users accessed social networks via mobile browsers, the mobile Social Web must not be ignored. Users seem attracted to mobile device access because they can consult with friends and quickly make decisions while remaining mobile, allowing users to use applications in a context such as the live-tracking of buses. Many popular social networks at the time of writing this report tend to offer both a Web-based version, and a dedicated application which can be downloaded for the given smartphone platform. These dedicated applications tend to be able to make much greater use of built in sensors, and applications found on these smartphones. As several mobile social networking sites allow users to both upload their location and see the location of their friends, a number of small groups have joined together to form the OSLO alliance (Open Sharing of Location-based Objects). OSLO includes many players in mobile social networking and location-based social software which have signed an agreement to enable their approximately 30 million users to share location information between mobile social networks, in essence supporting the portability of location information between services. However, this activity seems to have stalled and the W3C Device API WG is quickly filling the gap by standardizing a set of APIs to be implemented by mobile browsers to cater for access to device functionality, such as a user's address book, calendar, location, within a Web Application running inside a standard mobile browser. As more and more of Web usage goes mobile and data access speeds increase, one can expect the difference in capabilities between the Web and the mobile Web to diminish.

2010 was the year in which the issues of privacy on the Social Web grew beyond a niche concern and entered the popular consciousness. In December 2009, Facebook changed its privacy settings by defaulting certain privacy settings which in turn made part of a user's profile information public. Users were encouraged to use "privacy controls" to provide access control to their data, but many users found these controls to be confusing and the default settings led to revealing lists of friends. This sparked widespread outrage, even amongst the governments. The development of Facebook Connect and other more distributed services led Facebook's Terms of Service to become even more open with users data, such as "When you connect with an application or website it will have access to General Information [which includes] your and your friends’ names, profile pictures, gender, user IDs, connections, and any content ... the default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to everyone." Google long supported the general notion of portability, and its OpenSocial API (and Open Social Alliance) and Google FriendConnect starting to lay the ground for a distributed portable social platform. However, Google's attempt to transform their popular GMail into a social networking platform via Google Buzz in 2010 also led to massive privacy concerns amongst users: Buzz users saw their most frequent communication partners exposed publicly and needed to opt-out to have them concealed. Overall, at this moment in 2010, privacy is returning as a major concern. Furthermore, none of the concerns about the portability of social data have been addressed in a manner that is widely implemented across social Web platforms, leading to a fragmentation of identity and a generalized lack of portability and privacy on the Social Web. (@@QUESTION: was it really facebook connect or was it the OpenGraphProtocol which made this change to the T&C's)

In 2009 the World Wide Web Consortium held a workshop on the "Future of Social Networking" in Barcelona, and, shortly thereafter, launched the Social Web Incubator Group to investigate future work in the area of the Social Web. Tim Berners-Lee proposed Socially Aware Cloud Computing, where he illustrated how the technologies required to have a decentralized socially aware Web were available and how it is but a matter of engineering to realize this forward. Overall interest still remains high as witnessed by the launch in 2010 of products like Vodafone's OneSocialWeb and the open-source Diaspora Project, and the first attempt at developing a common test-suite across differing standards-based social networking sites at the Federated Social Web Summit. At this point in history, the Social Web has became the dominant platform for communication, rapidly beginning to even eclipse the use of e-mail among youth. The next steps the companies and communities around the Social Web take will have real consequences on the future of the Web and communication itself." (



Anil Dash:

  • "A desire to improve and simplify the experience for writing and creating content online. This is probably the area that’s stagnated most until the recent crop of tools like Medium or Svbtle popped up, though there had been a few small improvements in more limited contexts where people carefully reduced the scale and scope of the messages being shared to 140 characters or a single photo or a simple, gestural “like”.
  • An understandable, but still geeky, desire to advance the “open web” in a decentralized architecture that mimics the early days of the Internet. Based on the success of early open technologies like email, this technological desire is a useful way of ensuring that new systems don’t simply become completely owned by corporate interests. Frequently accompanied by a preference open source software, this area of endeavor has been characterized by a constant flow of quixotically unsuccessful efforts (Diaspora, Open Social, etc.) but is recently ascendant again with the excitement around

And the fundamental value which has given blogging and social media its moral grounding and its most significant impact:

  • The urge to make tools for communication and community more inclusive, more participatory and more democratic. To my surprise, this goal has been the part of the social web that has succeeded best, empowering and enriching the lives of many people who aren’t privileged by geography, wealth, inheritance, social standing, or identity. While far from perfect, it’s inarguable that people of many less privileged groups have participated in the social web from the start, and have been able to impact the world around them, and that counts for a lot."


The Social Web Vision

"People express different aspects depending on context, thus giving themselves multiple profiles that enable them to maintain various relationships within and across different contexts: the family, the sporting team, the business environment, and so on. Equally so, in every context certain information is usually desired to be kept private. In the 'pre-Web world' people can usually sustain this multiplicity of profiles as they are physically constrained to a relatively small set of social contexts and interaction opportunities.

In some ways, social dynamics on the Web resemble those outside the Web, but social interactions on the Web differ in a number of important ways:

  • the kinds of profile exhibited by a single person are not controlled by the same constraints and so are less limited in scope, and so may include profiles for fictional personae.
  • the set (number) of people with whom interactions are possible is not limited by distance or time. The Web allows for users to user connect with a vast number of people, which was inconceivable only a few years ago.
  • a person can explicitly "manage" the relationships and access to information they wish to have with others and with the increasing convergence of the Web and the world outside the Web is also leading to increasing concerns about privacy as these worlds collide.

Anyone should be able to create and to organize one or more different profiles using a trusted social networking site of choice, including hosting their own site that they themselves run either on a server or locally in their browser. For example, a user might want to manage their personal information such as home address, telephone number, and best friends on their own personal "node" in a federated social network while their work-related information such as office address, office telephone number, and work colleagues is kept on a social network ran by work. Today current aggregator-based approach exemplified by FriendFeed are but a short-term solution akin to "screen scraping", that work over a limited number of social networking sites, are fragile to changes in the sites' HTML, and which are legally dubious.

The approach we endorse allows the user to own their own data and associate specific parts of their personal data directly to different social networking sites, as well as the ability to link to data and friends across different sites. For example, your Friends Profile can be exposed to MySpace and Twitter, whereas your Work Profile to Plaxo and LinkedIn, and links between data and friends should be possible across all these sites. Traditional services can utilize these features, so that your "health" profile can be exposed to health care providers and your "citizen" profile exposed to online government sites and services. In this world of portable social data, both large and small new players can then also interface to profiles and offer seamless personalized social applications.

Privacy is a complex topic, and we understand privacy as control over accessibility of social information in general, including security as an enabler (the authentication of digital identity and ownership of data). Privacy controls are often not well-understood by users and they do not stop data "leaking" from the social networking site itself, which may give user data to other companies or even governments for some kind of gain without alerting the user. Privacy should be controlled by the users themselves in an explicit contract with social networking sites and applications that lets privacy controls easy-to-use and understandable. As custodian of their own profiles, users can then decide which social applications can access which profile details via explicitly exposing personal data to that application provider, and retracting it as well, at an appropriate level of granularity. This in itself is one of the biggest challenges for the entire Web community, not just social networks, and needs a new "policy-oriented Web" architecture to support trust and privacy on the Web in the longer term. Whilst technical security is a mandatory enabler, users' effective ability to control the processing of their data is largely influenced by accesible controls, helpful user interface design withg strong visual metaphors, and privacy-enhancing default settings regarding data sharing.

This Social Web architecture articulated here is not the invention of the Social Web Incubator Group, but of a long-standing community-based effort that has been running for multiple years, of which only a small fraction of have been explicitly interviewed and acknowledged by the Social Web Incubator Group. This report is dedicated to all the developers out there working to make this vision a reality." (

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