Home PeopleAggregator and Open Social Network Systems

PeopleAggregator and Open Social Network Systems

First the obligatory
disclaimer: I work as a part-time freelancer for Broadband Mechanics, the creators of PeopleAggregator. I’ve actually done analysis
and writing work on the PeopleAggregator project itself. So bear in mind that I’m
heavily biased 🙂 Even so, I think it’s in my Read/WriteWeb remit to take a
high-level look at the concept of open social networks – using PeopleAggregator as
my case study. 

PeopleAggregator is the first truly open social network system (SNS) on the Web. I
don’t think anyone will disagree that previous social networking success stories have all
been ‘closed’ systems: MySpace, AOL, Friendster, Orkut, etc. All of those are systems
that make it easy to enter your data, but very difficult (if not impossible) to get that
data out again. So if you want to move all your data to a new social network, well
tough luck your data is stuck in the old system.

What is an open system?

An open system would be one where you can both import and export your data with
relative ease. Anyone who is familiar with Marc Canter’s work over the years knows that
open standards and formats are key to his vision – and so it is with open social networks
too. With PeopleAggregator, there are several aspects to this. A few of the key ones are:
open identity, structured blogging (i.e. tools to use open data formats), APIs and web
services (interconnecting services across the Web).

The way Marc puts it is that there are three layers
of interconnection in an open social network: Authentication, Import/Export of data, and
common actions on top of those 2 layers.

The basic premise is that users can create and maintain content across a range of
websites and services – and use PeopleAggregator as their central service to manage all
that content and connect with others. For example, a user may store all their photos in
Flickr. PeopleAggregator can access those photos via Flickr’s APIs – as well as establish
relationships across the two systems, enable the user to join/create groups, send
messages, etc. I’m simplifying, but if you want to know more check this PDF out (which I
co-wrote with Marc).

Ecosystems of open data and apps

The real value IMO of open social networks is that they create an ecosystem for lots
of vendors and web services to participate in. If you’re Amazon for example, or indeed
any e-commerce vendor, you can create widgets to use in a service like PeopleAggregator –
or simply open up your data via APIs so that external developers can create widgets or
web apps. Or say you’re an online dating service – you could create a plug-in for
PeopleAggregator that enables people to create relationships within and across both

While it’s possible to hack together an Amazon widget or an online dating app for
MySpace, they can’t be integrated with MySpace. The identity systems will be different,
import and export will be troublesome (if not impossible) and there will be no way to
create relationships across the two systems. They’ll be two separate systems, in

But with an open social network that has open identity, import/export and a
“vocabulary” of common actions (like ‘create a relationship’) – then data and
services truly integrate and interconnect. It makes for a more fluid user experience –
and gives more opportunities for vendors and web services!

Summary: open social networks are the future

It’s early days yet for PeopleAggregator. The current hosted version of People
Aggregator and downloadable version (which enables you to create your own SNS) both have
the beginnings of this open social network vision – but there’s much more functionality
to come. And I’m not saying that as a Broadband Mechanics drone, it’s just my way of
explaining that the big picture concept of an ‘open social network’ has a long way to go!
That’s why I rabbit on about microcontent, widgets and Personalized Start Pages here on
Read/WriteWeb – because in the long run I see a Web where little pieces of content and
small apps interconnect and interact with one another. I don’t think this is airy-fairy
stuff, I believe it will be reality within a few years. Open social networks is but one
part of that grand vision 😉

Photo: paolovalde

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