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 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 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 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.
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.