Even observing the social networking phenomenon these days is enough to make you sea sick. The ground is shifting at an amazing rate. If computer time is faster than normal time and internet time is faster than computer time, then social networking time is faster again. It seems there's a new site to investigate every other day.
And like the addicts we are, we all go scurrying off to the latest and greatest in the social web. Marveling at the new features as we once again try to find all the contacts we had on the last 5 platforms. But I'm becoming increasingly conscious of how fractured a community we are becoming as the number of platforms increases exponentially.
Facebook is the largest of the social networking sites (though the new functionality in Google Reader could catapult it up the list rapidly) and number two is MySpace. But we don't talk about MySpace because "no one" uses that. You have the cool kids over on Twitter and the geeks on FriendFeed. And on it goes.
Despite considerable efforts to cross-pollinate the conversation between sites there's no doubt that each of these is still a single flower in the garden and the result is a series of overlapping but largely independent discussions.
Now of course this isn't radically different to the real world. We create partially overlapping circles of friends based around geography, interests, social backgrounds etc. But isn't the social web supposed to be better than that? To extend our range of knowledge and widen the conversation?
How can we do that if we're being broken down into progressively smaller and smaller groups, many of which only the most net obsessed geeks have even heard of?
Or perhaps more to the point, how can we reverse this trend without stifling the creativity that is generating these new services?
Recently I've been trying to create a self-hosted lifestream so I can center all of my online conversations around my blog. People would still be able to interact with me on their service of choice (FriendFeed, Twitter) etc. I'm using the open source software Sweetcron to do this. But while it is fundamentally sound, it's not user friendly. It takes quite a bit of tweaking to get the output I was looking for. And even then despite it's open plugin system there are a number of services that I can't seem to import into it. And how to account for comments I post on old school message boards or other blogs?
I think what the social web needs is a protocol in the same way that we have HTTP, email and RSS. We need a discussion protocol. A standard that would allow easy movement of discussion from one service to another and the collation of all my comments regardless of where I made them.
So... who's going to write that then?
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