Boys scrap over Facebook

 Jason Calacanis, CEO of Weblogs  and Master of New Media, took the lid off a noisy can of worms this week when he declared Facebook Bankruptcy, exhausted by his facebook chores of responding to endless invitations, requests and guilt trips.  In sum, he says, “Folks have just opted in to another out of control inbox…. I'm opting out.”

This was all too much for Scoble,  whose river of crocodile tears led to ”Calacanis can't keep up with Facebook“.  Scoble apparently manages more than 4,000 Facebook friends (including me – I'm down here somewhere) compared to Jason's mere 395, saying, “More of the best names in tech are on Facebook than any other social network I’m on.” and ”Facebook is the new business card”.  He sees Facebook as new age marketing.  (Is this why half my homepage consists of Scoble videos? Just kidding…) 

Nestled between the extremes is a piece by Rex Hammock, who I think gets it right when he says, ”Facebook is a sandbox I’m playing in — but it has a long way to go before it can hope to be the world I live in.”  He goes on:

“It should be noted, I am a fan of Facebook as I believe it is a great platform on which to experiment on a common platform many of the disparate tools and approaches to conversational media, identity, attention and community that I have spent the past decade trying to understand — by using them and, in some cases, living in them.

“But, as I’ve said before, unless we’re all willing to give up everything else we love about the nature of the Internet, then Facebook is not the golden fleece (or holy grail — but since this conversation was started by someone named Jason, I thought I’d head in the direction of that metaphor).

“Frankly, Facebook is not even close to being what will ultimately be that thing which alters fundamentally the way in which we relate and communicate. It may show us the way, but there are some important factors related to personal identity and social interaction that Facebook — or any platform that requires us to create community that is locked inside a wall — will not be able to overcome if it is to become the next be-all, end-all.

“As academics and others spend their entire careers exploring and explaining the phenomena I’ve just alluded to in the previous sentences, I won’t insult them by trying to use this post to trivialize the nature of identity and community. (When it comes to exploring the issues surrounding digital identity, a good place to start is Kim Cameron’s blog and his white paper called ‘Laws of Identity’.)”

Yes, identity is one of the keys.  After talking about the evolution of the telephone from closed system to open universal, he adds:

“Until my identity and network can be as transportable (some use the term “persistent”) and can follow me around from place to place and situation to situation and network to network, the “breakthrough” will not occur. Facebook may be a great sandbox to play in, but it won’t become the world I live in until my identity belongs to me, not them. My identity and network should be like an email address — it should work universally. And I should be able to take it with me.

“Part of this issue may be solvable with future generations of initiatives like OpenID, which attempt to address the obvious problem we all have in repeatedly going through the process of registering on every new site we encounter.

“But as it is today, the Facebook platform is not a solution. It’s just letting us play around until either they — or we — come up with the real deal.

“If I ran the Internet (or Google), I would do the following: I would get with Microsoft, Yahoo! AOL and the Mozilla Foundation and Ning and People Aggregator — and every other player or wannabe player in the field of social networking, identity, attention, whatever — and agree on open standards for those things — based on the principle that they should be controlled by the user, not the silos.”

Yet take a look through the Facebook APIs and I think you'll be surprised at how much has already been made possible.  I'm impressed.

Facebook has had to provide access to the user's information in order to become an application development platform.   And I need to underline that they should be congratulated for using email (e.g. universal) addresses as identifiers.  As a result, the list of friends I download from Facebook will work with any other system that is based on email identifiers and uses validation of ownership of the accounts.  I think that deserves a standing ovation. 

While reading Rex's post I had a bit of an epiphany.  In fact we need a wider suite of standards that make identity useful for building social networking applications, rather than just basic identity assertions (as important as these may be).   Otherwise, what can you do once you've pushed out the walls of your garden?  Not much.

We've reached the stage where we understand quite a bit about the taxonomy and requirements for this broader suite.  It's time to think about what the core set of capabilities would include.  What's most fascinating is the way ”Here Are My…” info (are we talking OPML?) combines with identity to produce intense outcomes.  

For example, your “Here Are My Friends” is definitely key.  But look what happens when it is combined with their “Here Are My Videos”…  You get the feed of your friends’ videos, and this cross-product really does turn out to be fun.  Normally I'd link to a couple of examples on Facebook, but guess what?  You can't go there without an account (duh!)

7 thoughts on “Boys scrap over Facebook

  1. Facebook needs better identity tools. After reading this, I went out to check and see if you had a Facebook account. Do you know there are 70 “Kim Cameron”s listed? (well, a number of them are Kimberley Camerons!) – most have long blonde hair for some reason. But you did show up – around #68, I think!

    Yet all they can search on is a single field (i.e., name) at a time – really hard to find your friend Jack Smith (or Joe Jones or Wang Tao!)

  2. Pingback: rexblog.com: Rex Hammock’s weblog » Blog Archive » How I assert my identity on this page

  3. What we've got with Information Cards and OpenID is going a long way towards addressing the Internet's Identity Layer but weaving another social/semantic layer into this fabric opens up a myriad of new opportunities and functionality.

    Some of the scenarios are like the “Here are my…” examples above but going further if your preferred social network (like LinkedIn) supports microformats suddenly you include your hresume, contact cards etc with you. I don't think an email address is the appropriate identifier though, something like an OpenID url would be a much better fit. Should you change your “preferred” supplier of identity/social data you delegate your OpenID to your new provider without breaking a sweat.

    I've setup a prototype OpenID provider using your Facebook profile as the backing information store and it's available at http://identitu.de. Currently it only supports OpenID authentication and the Simple Registration Extensions but I hope to add support for Information Cards and more advanced claims exchange more related to the social aspects soon.
    Since the OpenID is backed by Facebook we can't provide an email address, instead I'm looking at generating an address Relying Parties can use to send information directly to that person which will show up in the Facebook inbox. (Facebook making email obsolete!? :P )

    Currently layout mostly only works in Firefox but as soon as I get a chance I'm sorting out the IE layout and other issues.

  4. “What’s most fascinating is the way ”Here Are My…” info … combines with identity to produce intense outcomes. ” — particularly “intense” when the controls, particularly access controls, are absent. Facebook like most seem to have a somewhat arcane control model from a participant's perspective. For example, it appears that Facebook-developed or third-party commercial partner apps have full read/write access to your portal view; the user can only control their data and view experience as its is made by independent third party apps. For another example, it doesn't seem possible to cluster Facebook friends by the subject's persona in order to provide some information to one set of friends (hello investors, “here are pictures of me at the business retreat”) and different information to another set of friends (“here are pictures of me drunk at the business retreat”). To achieve this apparently one would need to have multiple accounts and multiple email addresses, and manually sync selected information between them. (Partially this is due to the social networking simplification that every kind of relationship is a “friend” and that all friends are interchangable.) While some of a social networking service's capabilities are empowering to its participating users, others are limiting in that they don't permit an appropriate representation of the real world into their data model, and these mismatches can lead to, at best, mild annoyance and at worst a cognitive dissonance that makes the service unusable. In a recent blog post http://www.ldap.com/1/commentary/wahl/20070730_01.shtml on “Anti-Utopian Social Networking” I discussed another potential flaw that could affect user acceptance of social networking: cullturally inappropriate interpolation of marketing into the user's interaction experience.

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  6. Hey Kim; this post is really insightful, and thanks for compiling those links. Are you experiencing the same sort of fatigue that people like Scoble and Calacanis are? Are you inundated with friend requests and application invitations? How are you dealing with it? I'm interested to see how different people are handling this, and why they're experiencing different levels of involvement and fatigue.

    I think that Scoble has basically brought upon himself the high level of Facebook fatigue he's experiencing by spending so much time networking on the site. He doesn't seem bothered, but others are. I suppose the question is whether one's involvement in relation to producing output should be directly related to how much time one must commit to reception. The problem with Facebook is that what I deem an appropriate use of my time is different than what someone else does, but I am still subject to their actions.

    Your thoughts?

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