Cliqset, a website that allows users to view and interact with streams of activity data from multiple social networks in one place, is losing its two co-founders after an unsuccessful run at growing the company. Darren Bounds and Charlie Cauthen led what might have been the single biggest show of startup support for bleeding-edge technical standards aimed at building a federated social Web, rich with consumer choice - but the company's business execution was insufficient to ensure its survival.

Leaders of the distributed social Web standards community, the effort to build interoperable competition for the big social networking silos, say that Cliqset's apparent demise is unfortunate, but that they look forward to seeing what Bounds and Cauthen do next.

Cliqset - Getting started from cliqset on Vimeo.

Cliqset worked with all kinds of different technical standards, but the startup's brightest shining moment may have been in December 2009, when it released an API that transformed user activity data feeds from more than 70 different social websites into standardized Activity Streams data and offered them through a new API.

Standards across sites for user activity data feeds are aimed to act as a common foundation to provide scale for innovation outside the big mainstream social networks. In other words, if all photos, friends and comments are marked up in a common standardized way, those activities can be viewed across all the small social networking startups - giving them more people and content to display than they would if it was just a random startup alone against the big guys like Facebook.

I've compared standards in social networking data to the historical rise of standardized railroad measurements - which allowed trains to ride across different networks and fostered a new era of nation-wide commerce in the United States.

Unfortunately, economic incentive hasn't driven people to engage with interoperable small networks instead of favoring the big players, Facebook and Twitter. Meanwhile, little Cliqset suffered from a substantially unappealing user experience, which it was never able to overcome.

"Darren and Charlie have done an amazing job taking open technologies and distilling them into a consumer experience," Yahoo's Eran Hammer-Lahav said today.

"The problem is that social aggregation no longer offers any significant value with the Facebook/Twitter market consolidation. The biggest loser from the collapse of Cliqset is Google, as their world of potential social federation partners shrinks even further. Cliqset was a strong supporter and early adopter of many of the core social technologies such as Salmon, WebFinger, and PubSubHubbub."

Unfortunately, all those standards are feeling less viable today than they were in the heady times they were introduced. Independent social Web technical leaders have largely joined up with Google or Facebook and standards organizations have grown quieter. Cauthen and Bounds have not announced what they will do next, but it's probably safe to assume that it will include working to move social Web data standards forward.

Startup Challenges

Not everyone agrees that this has anything to do with challenges faced by the larger standards community. "I don't believe this really has anything to do with standards," Chris Saad of Echo and the Data Portability Working Group says. "Lifestreams in the b2c space has long been crowded and has now consolidated around the Facebook news feed."

Cliqset's Bounds appears to agree. "In order to build a community, you need massive differentiation today," Bounds told blogger Louis Gray this morning.

"It's fairly obvious in hindsight. Projects I would be working on in the future would be leveraging the existing social graph, and the need for success wouldn't be contingent on relationships and community within itself. In no means do I think Facebook is impenetrable and somebody can't build something to compete with it, but it's not an easy task."