Cracking Facebook’s Dominance: New Cross-Network Commenting Protocol Could Be a Game Changer

Two companies outside Silicon Valley say they are the first implementers of a new open source protocol called Salmon, which allows comments to be sent over the walls of one social network to communicate with users of another. Imagine being able to post a message on Facebook to “@janedoe@twitter” and then seeing Jane receive the message in real time on Twitter. It’s a vision comparable to being able to call any telephone number, whether it’s part of your phone provider’s network or not.

Facebook isn’t implementing Salmon, but that’s what Canadian open-source business microblogging service Status.net and Florida-based stream service Cliqset announced they have implemented between their networks this morning. Think of this as a technical foil for monopoly beginning to unfold.

Because Salmon is an open standard, any service can implement it without formal business relationships, and Google Buzz is expected to enter the Salmon ecosystem next. If a substantial portion of the technical community implements Salmon, Facebook could be under a lot of pressure to do so as well. (As it was with OpenID, for example.) If you could still message your friends inside and outside Facebook, it would be a lot easier for innovative new alternative networks to lure you away from the one big site that 400 million people use today.

The Players

Evan Prodromou of Status.net says his service has 1.2 million users, hosts 12,000 sites on its cloud and is adding 800 sites per week. It’s a hot little startup that’s fast implementing new technical protocols and making high profile hires. Status.net began rolling out Salmon support earlier this month but today announced that it was working with Cliqset on displaying the cross-network communication. “We’ve got disparate implementations communicating well using this open standard for cross-network conversations,” Prodromou said today, “It’s the first time!”

Cliqset is better at trailblazing innovation than at user acquisition but is a very respected member of the technical community working to create social network interoperability.

Google Buzz appears to have seen a lukewarm public reaction to its launch but is most disruptive because of its support for open data standards. Salmon is still listed in the “coming soon” stage of the Buzz roadmap.

Today’s news isn’t just about those players, it’s about the Salmon protocol that would allow any social network to participate. Salmon was developed primarily by Google employee John Panzer. If you’ve seen the way that the Echo commenting system displays Tweets, trackbacks and other social media mentions below blog posts, that’s the kind of model that Salmon aims to make open source.

Interoperability as Foundation for Choice, Innovation, User Control

Facebook’s near monopoly on mainstream social networking means that users have limited options in how they experience social networking and they have to play by Facebook’s rules. Not everyone likes how Facebook changes its rules, especially its privacy policy.

Likewise, though Facebook is incredibly quick to innovate, it’s generally assumed that a market with more than one competitor gives all companies in question more incentive to try to win the hearts of users.

Simply put, if you could leave Facebook and still communicate with people using Facebook (you can’t today) then leaving Facebook would be a lot easier, and more social networks would have reason to invest in building a compelling service for you to use. If there was more than one meaningful option, those services would compete to build the best social network they possibly could. And Facebook would have more reason to be careful when considering dramatic changes in things like its privacy policy. Today, where else are you going to go without losing touch with all your friends?

That’s why interoperability is important and that’s why it’s a big deal that two small social networks used by early adopters have pushed Salmon-based interoperability out into the wild.

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