open semantic microformat code in order to comprehend what those updates are about and make more sophisticated update highlighting and recommendation decisions.MySpace will announce in the next few weeks a major new feature being added to its MySpaceID product that will allow third-party websites to write updates into the MySpace activity feed just like Facebook Connect, but will also incorporate
It's a major move being worked on with both the Activity Streams and Open Social communities - it could push the rest of the web, outside of Facebook, in a direction that supports radical app innovation through the creation of a level playing field of readable data. And it could make MySpace a lot better, too.
"We don't want to do anything without semantics, to be honest," Monica Keller, group architect for activity streams at MySpace, told us by phone today. "We can't afford to show a user content on their home page that they aren't going to like." At a time when MySpace is in serious trouble and trying to regroup, a home run by Keller and crew could make MySpace more relevant to people again and impact the rest of the web in positive ways radically unlike the impact of Facebook's proprietary software.
Keller told us today that MySpace is working on increasing the amount and sophistication of user activity updates on the site in a number of different ways. In case anyone is chuckling and thinking MySpace doesn't matter, we should remember that only ten sites on the web are visited more often than MySpace still today. MySpace may be on the decline, but it's still hugely important and these moves it's making could help it become even more so.
Adding "Write" Functionality
MySpaceID currently allows sites around the web to offer sign-in using MySpace account credentials. The sites can then pull in some amount of a user's data from MySpace and use it to personalize the experience they have on the new site - friends lists can be synced and taste information can be gleaned from a profile to customize recommendations, for example.
The next step will be to bring in user activities from these third-party sites and display them in your MySpace user activity feed, much like Facebook Connect allows. This gives other sites access to distribution inside MySpace. Developers of other sites will be able to offer users the option of publishing their activities on these other sites back onto their MySpace profiles and friends' activity feeds.
Here's how MySpace's plan is unlike what Facebook is doing. The updates will be marked up for the types of activities they represent with standardized microformat code, beginning with the events format hCal and soon to include the book, movie or other review format hReview. Those little bits of code that will be added could have big consequences.
Keller says the company acknowledges that this won't be a small task for third-party developers, so in the meantime she is working on automated methods of pulling user data in from other sites' Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and marking them up automatically, with the microformat code communicating what kind of updates they are (events, reviews, etc.)
Why This is Important
By giving the web a reason to build out software that publishes information in the standardized format of the Activity Streams spec and semantic microformats, MySpace grows the pie of that kind of data and gives developers a greater incentive to develop more in that same fashion. Standardized data is the soil in which fields of new applications grow.
This kind of data normalization creates the level playing field of information that allows new applications to be written and scale up through accessing and processing large quantities of information that have effectively been translated into the same "language." You want to build an application that processes hCal events? That will be a lot more appealing when the MySpace ecosystem of connected sites is all speaking that language.
Keller says that MySpace and the community of people working on building a common Activity Streams specification for all sites have been working closely with the Open Social community, the Google-led cross-site application platform that competes with the Facebook App platform. Keller says MySpace's new activity feed functionality will be delivered from within but extend upon the Open Social framework the company uses to connect with other sites now.
There isn't any indication yet that MySpace will make these marked-up updates available in bulk to developers for analysis; they will likely remain authenticated and limited in visibility to friends who have given approval. That would be an even bigger boost for innovation, but the promotion of the standardized data format is a huge step nonetheless.
What's In It for MySpace?
So if this has a lot of potential to be good for the web - what's in it for MySpace? Two things, primarily.
First, as Facebook grows rapidly in both user numbers and integration with sites around the web through its similar product Facebook Connect, MySpace is no longer the center of the web for millions of people. This kind of product facilitates that kind of relationship, and offering outside developers write-access to MySpace will incentivize more of them to support ongoing user-connection with MySpace. The microformatted markup makes this a lot smarter than Facebook Connect, frankly.
There is a risk that all the smarts in the world won't interest people in MySpace's declining profile, but the site remains one of the most popular on the web and a viable competitor to Facebook. (Facebook said they may or may not comment on this move by MySpace; we're still waiting to see if they'd like to.)
The goal for the program that Keller shared with us was different. She says that the microformats markup will enable the company to make smarter decisions in highlighting friends' updates and offering users' recommendations.
Keller says that MySpace is working on and will soon deploy technology that closely monitors what kind of friend updates users show interest in. If I often click on your photos but never read your blog posts, or I am very interested in your book reviews but don't care about your events listings, then MySpace will feature those kinds of your updates in my friends' activity feeds more or less prominently. Knowing what kinds of activities are being brought in from other sites will help make that more possible. The same information will facilitate smarter recommendations of content you might like.
That's why Monica Keller says "We don't want to do anything without semantics, to be honest. We can't afford to show a user content on their home page that they aren't going to like."
Watch for these new technologies to be announced in the coming weeks. They could have a big impact not just on the future of MySpace, but on much of the rest of the web as well.