Home Action Streams: A New Idea for Social Networks

Action Streams: A New Idea for Social Networks

Walled gardens are already under attack because of the ease of sending content like messages and photos from one website to another. Sites that don’t let content flow in and out freely, when that’s what users want, are fighting against the powerful tide of the internet.

Now a new proposal aims to take things to the next level and send a payload of item-type specific action options along with every piece of content that gets shot across the internet. A loose body of innovators from some of the biggest social networking companies online have begun discussing an addition to the Activity Streams standard format called an Action Stream. That could blow the world of social networking wide open, allowing users to try out other competing social networks without losing their ability to interact with friends on Facebook, for example.

Earlier this month social software designer Adrian Chan offered up a proposal for what he called Action Streams.

Action streams would not only share status/activity update meta-data but also permit updates to function as actions. For example, an invitation update posted in twitter could be accepted in Buzz. The vision for action streams thus involves a distributed and decentralized ecosystem of coupled action posts, rendered by third party stream clients and within participating social networks.

This idea was added tonight to the Activity Streams wiki where it will be discussed by the community building the Activity Streams format. The standard types of actions that can be taken in regard to content items of the same categories on Amazon and Facebook were listed as prior art. The discussion has just begun, and data interoperability isn’t something that everyone at big social networks agrees is in their best short-term interests. These idea are exciting and are supported by a substantial number of people, though.

The Activity Streams discussion is participated in by engineers from companies like Google, Facebook, Nokia, Yahoo and others. Chris Messina, who joined Google in January, is one of the key voices, and semantic web builder Monica Keller, who left MySpace for Facebook last month, appears to be taking an even more active role in the effort than she had before.

If Activity Streams with Actions can be implemented effectively, that would mean not only that you could participate in any social network you choose and still read messages from outside that network – you could also interact with them from those other networks as well. RSVP to Facebook event invites, tag yourself in photos, etc. without visiting Facebook, but from within whichever social network won your heart through its superior features or design.

You could interact with your friends on Google Buzz from inside Facebook, or from a social network that doesn’t even exist yet. More and better social networks would spring into existence because the ability to see and interact with friends would no longer be a scarce resource hoarded by the biggest social networks.

If you think social networking is a world-changing phenomenon today, imagine what it might be like if interoperable social networks sprung up like wildflowers. It’s one thing to make content available in a standard format – but making some basic actions transmittable and standardized would make the prospect of communication across networks all the more real and powerful. That could mean an environment ripe for innovation and a better experience every day for users.

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