Another article has popped up proclaiming the death of Facebook. I read this with interest in part because I’ve become a bit disillusioned with Facebook myself for reasons I’ve discussed before. And I’d read some of what Phoebe Connelly referenced in her Guardian article. But her comments about the risks of data in the cloud resonated a bit and got me to thinking about possible solutions.
It seems pretty clear by now that social networking sites/services are here to stay. The question being, what form will these take in the future? Popular services come, mature, and go away as people’s interests and technology changes. Can any of this be future-proofed? Probably not, but it seemed clear to me that having all of your eggs or data in one basket is a bad idea. So I started to think about what a distributed, federated social networking service might look like. This would be a service which allows the same kind of sharing we are familiar with on Facebook, but with individual members having their homes on servers maintained by different companies. This would be pretty seamless from the user’s point of view just as it doesn’t really matter what company hosts your email these days.
Well, my rush to the patent office was cut short by the realization that the smart folks at Google had already begun the process of building this as Google Wave! A little Googling turned up this article on New Rowley, Google Wave: Users may need it, but it will be hard to get them to use it. It may well be that users familiar and comfortable with Facebook, and Myspace may eschew Wave based services and stay put. But I suspect that the tech people and the Cool Kids are going to cause a rapid expansion of the Wave space once it enters a wider release. I’m going to try to ride this wave myself, and the pun was definitely intended!
Now I know why the folks who run Facebook, MySpace, and perhaps Twitter, may be a bit worried. Google Wave may take the bat right out of their hands. In any case, it won’t happen overnight and if they’re smart, they’ll quickly provide their own Wave compatible services and just accept that they have to share some of their revenue with someone else or risk losing more members entirely.
Ultimately, federated social networking services should give users more control over their social data and how it is used. But like most freedoms, this one comes with responsibilities and risks. Users will have to be more responsible for managing the collection of services they use. They’ll also have to ready for those times when some of those services fail. At least in this scenario, the failure of one provider won’t result in the loss of all of your data! Finally, as always, let the user beware! Not all service providers will be uprigtht and honest. There will be some rip offs! But in the end, I think this is the next wave, so get your board ready, you won’t want to miss it!