Thanks for the Add!

I added this thing to my site (the HTML version, which most of you never see) a while back, and it’s gotten some interesting responses. I’ll reproduce it here in a post for your convenience.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but this is stupid. Now, I like being on lots of social networks — much of my job, and many of the opportunities that I’ve been able to take advantage of, are based on the relationships that I’m able to maintain online. But this process of hoping people manually recreate these networks over and over isn’t just an annoyance for really geeky people like me; It also acts as a barrier to people creating new, useful services, because it’s just cruel to ask people to clear this social networking hurdle yet again.

That’s why I’ve really been enjoying watching the work on the Relationship Update Stream. I wrote an explanatory blog post, but David Recordon probably says it best since he’s actually been the guy hacking on this stuff.

The thing is, this isn’t new. The relationships that are being shared between social networking sites that use these technologies have been around since well before we started calling things “Web 2.0”. For example, four and a half years ago, when Ben Hammersley wrote the first review of TypePad, as positive as he was in the Guardian, the part that he was clearly most excited about was TypePad’s support of FOAF, the Friend-of-a-Friend spec that would let people reuse this sort of relationship data. That support found its way into TypeKey (and LiveJournal independently implemented it too), and just a few months later folks like Marc Canter were expectantly awaiting the arrival of open social networks. (“Anyone can come to this page and ‘Add me as a Friend’. We don’t need no stinking Friendster!”)

I think we were hopeful then, too. A full six months earlier, Ben Trott wrote about what you could do with open social network data. I knew at the time that he was talking about TypePad’s FOAF support, but TypePad hadn’t yet been launched (or even named TypePad yet), so it was hard to give people context for what we were trying to do. Always the thinker, Tim Appnel took the conversation and ran with it, ruminating about TrackBack being FOAF-enabled.

But I find it heartening that so many people have been so effusive about the idea of opening up the social graph. I’m saddened how many people have prefaced their excitement with “Well, I can’t say this publicly…” but I’ll take endorsements where I can get ’em, even if that means they’re private. Add that to the people who appreciated my penchant for boring history lessons about the web, and those who’ve put even morethought into the ideas here, and it’s enough to make even a cynic like me get excited.

The thing is, I don’t think the then-young blogging community as a whole was good at launching industry-wide efforts when we started talking about this stuff years ago. All of us who were around then remember all too well how viciously people could argue over things like XML formats, but it seems like we actually have learned a little bit since then. The nofollow initiative was a nice trial run to see how people could just work together, and Dave Winer’s successes with things like enclosures/podcasting for RSS emerged fairly quickly, too, showing the power of simply shipping a good idea. I think for me, OpenID was the first time that I saw a really new technology, one of these things we’d been talking about forever, finally get shipped and adopted. And even though it came from the hacking community, some of the biggest companies in the world got behind it. Astounding.

So, though it’s taken almost half a decade, I have some hope that these pieces will start to come together. And maybe that’s why it took so long — it couldn’t have happened any sooner than now. I think it’s only appropriate that the true test of whether open social networking will take off is whether those who make the social networks themselves are able to, you know, add each other as friends.