Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Social Networking

In 1967, Stanley Milgram proposed the “small world theory”, which proposed that every person on earth is connected to every other person by a chain of just six other people. In other words, you know somebody, who knows somebody, etc., You might have heard of a humorous application of this called the Kevin Bacon Game. Several years ago, some clever programmers created a web site, called SixDegrees (it’s been down for a while, but is preparing to re-launch), based on this idea. You would register an account, get your friends to sign up, they’d get their friends to sign up, etc., and you could follow the chains of contacts to see if you were connected to anyone famous. This was the first big social networking experiment of its kind on the internet.

Now there are lots of them. And some of them extend their usefulness beyond the boundaries of their particular service, by offering the ability to create output in open formats like FOAF and RSS. Here are the ones that I’m aware of right now:

Ecademy

Ecademy is geared towards making business contacts. It has tools for locating people with similar interests to your own, and has very detailed user profile. You can make your profile information available in FOAF format, or point to your own externally created FOAF. You can also set up your own weblog on Ecademy, and there are RSS feeds available for the blogs and other article feeds.

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is much like the original SixDegrees, but with a slant towards professional contacts, not personal ones. You can enter information about your employment and project history, and the people connected to you can give “endorsements”. It doesn’t have the community features of Ecademy, but is much more focused.

Ryze

Ryze is another service tailored to making business contacts, though it caters to other organizations and to personal networking, as well. Members can create their own “Networks”, which are like interest groups, and there are discussion forums for these.

Plink

Plink (people link) is based solely on FOAF. It’s still under development, but the list of future features looks pretty neat. (my profile)

If you are interested in creating your own FOAF profile, try FOAFaMatic (web-based, java app)

Friendster

Friendster is heavy on the social aspects of networking. In fact, it’s weighted toward being a dating service, with photos in the profiles and searches by gender and marital status.

Each of these services has different strengths, and will attract different, but occassionally overlapping audiences. What might be interesting is if there was some way for these services to interact with each other. If I have accounts on both LinkedIn and Ecademy, it would be nice to share contacts between systems. Ecademy can create FOAF data, wouldn’t it be neat if it could import it as well (and auto-detect which of your contacts were already Ecademy members, also)? And how about if Plink began offering services for creating and hosting FOAF files? Most of these services have a closed business model, however. But one day, they might see some value in offering those types of inter-service connections.

If you know of any other services like these, or have any opinions on the ones I’ve mentioned, please leave your comments here.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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13 Responses to Social Networking

  1. Scott Northrop says:

    Great overview article! These sites are interesting, and great fun, but! …their days are numbered.

    Why would I sign up for a hotmail account if I could only send to other hotmail customers? I could use the internet-wide smtp email, instead, and reach everyone.

    In the same way, why would I use these social networking websites when I can only link to my friends who are on it? When it becomes mature (which won’t take too long), I’ll just be able to make a FOAF file, make it available via http, and link to anyone on the internet.

    Cheers,

    Scott Northrop

  2. Dougal says:

    “In the same way, why would I use these social networking websites when I can only link to my friends who are on it? When it becomes mature (which won’t take too long), I’ll just be able to make a FOAF file, make it available via http, and link to anyone on the internet.”

    Probably for the same reason that there are still separate networks for Instant Messenger programs like AIM, MSN, Yahoo!, etc. Because once you become entrenched in a particular technology, you tend to stick with it. And once you get all your friends to commit to that same technology, it becomes harder to switch, unless something catastrophic happens, such as that service being shut down. “An object at rest tends to remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force.”

    Granted, there are bridging technologies such as Jabber and Trillian, which can talk to multiple IM networks (I’m a Jabber user, myself). So I’m hoping that somebody could create a bridge between these social networking services, if they don’t end up doing it themselves.

  3. Matt says:

    Maybe I’m just unfriendly. ;)

    FOAF is too much trouble, even with those little forms. I’ll stick to XFN.

  4. Great piece Dougal, thanks.

    Just a couple of points. Although the business models of these networks are closed at the moment, the data, at least Ecademy FOAF, is not and freely available. Any network or application that wishes to use this FOAF can do so.

    Scott suggests that FOAF from these networks allow inter-network links only. True, but if you look ay my Ecademy FOAF at:
    http://ecademy.com/module.php?mod=network&op=foafrdf&uid=21496
    you will see an rdfs:seeAlso element which links to my personal FOAF. Using this consuming applications can easily traverse from the network to the wild and back.

  5. Wrong again – bug report please – the comment post is stripping the URL. &u21496 is ending up as &u=21496.

  6. Marc Canter says:

    Just one word – PeopleAggregator.com. It’s a FOAF based social network – doing what all these folks do – but open and FOAFy. Coming soon…..

  7. Dougal says:

    Victor, I’m trying to track down the source of the url breakage. It’s stored in the database just fine. But comments go through a ton of filters before they are displayed. One of them is mangling the url.

    At worst, it will fix itself when I upgrade my blog to the newest version of WordPress.

  8. Dougal says:

    Okay, I fixed the link in Victor’s first post. Turns out it *wasn’t* okay in the database. The link-conversion process was stripping out all instances of ‘id=’, so the ‘&uid=21496′ part of the link was getting mangled.

    Shouldn’t happen any more.

  9. Just to suggest you to consider Huminity in your list, http://www.huminity.com

  10. Dougal says:

    I see that Julian Bond of Ecademy has a pretty big list of other social networking services.

  11. Ben says:

    http://www.zopto.com/

    Social Networking through FOAF

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