Breathing in the Social Networks

What will it take for social networks to become as pervasive as air? Charlene Li, the co-author of Groundswell, recently gave a talk at OReilly’s Graphing Social Patterns conference on the future of social networks that you can hear via the IT Conversation Network, (you can also see the slides to the talk on Slideshare) where she envisions a future where social networks become as pervasive as air- following us everywhere we go without effort.

I was listening to this podcast on my way back from the airport yesterday, and more than once during her talk wished I was at the conference to talk with her in real time.

The first time was when she was first defining “like air” as following you everywhere on the web- it sounds futuristic, but I immediately thought of my recent experiences with Glue. The more she talked, especially when she talked about wanting to “see friends reviews” on Amazon, the more I wanted to run up to her with my miniLaptop and say “look at THIS!”. In some ways, Glue does exactly what she was talking about in the realm of sahring recommendations and experiences online with friends, regardless of where you know someone from. If someone is listed as my friend on Glue, it does not matter if they looked at and reviewed an item on Amazon and I am on the BestBuy site, I will still get their feedback on that item. The thing that makes Glue less useful than it could be is the same thing that made Twitter less interesting 18 months ago… a lack of participants. But even with low numbers, I am already more excited about Glue than I was in the early days of Twitter. I am excited to envision what will be possible when my entire Twitter, Facebook and gTalk networks are on Glue. I am also looking forward to the first Glue Ap for my BB, where I can scan in a product barcode via the cell phone camera and have Glue give me back the feedback of my network who browsed it online.. and vice versa.

My second moment of wanting to share directly with Charlene was when she was talking about the current closed circle nature of socialmetworks and how this needs to change. It came fast on the heels of my attempt at explaining Facebook to my mom. Taking my mom on the Facebook journey was honestly not my idea, it came because my eldest daughter spent most of their visit this weekend trying to convince her grandmother to join, so they can communicate more easily. I had been reluctant to drag my mom into this, because I knew that her learning curve might not keep up with the shift in social networks. My teenaged daughter does not have much of a vision about life before (or after)Facebook and she has no idea that in other geo-ethnic groups Facebook is NOT the place to be, it might be Bebo or Hi5 or Orkut or one of a shifting group of social networks. My fear has been that just as my parents learn and feel comfortable on Facebook, their grandchildren will move on to the next hot thing in social networks and leave them behind again. I know there is a coming shift from email to social network messaging, but what we really need is an interface to bridge the gaps. I need a way to forward my daughter’s external email address to her Facebook inbox and she needs a way to send messages from her inbox to people she knows external to Facebook- either to an email address or to an inbox on another social network.

As Charlene points out, if the social networks themselves will not put this in place, there will be portals that start to agreggate and cross link the networks. This still needs better authentication schemes and ways of creating site and contact grooups to manage it. I do not want everyone I know to have access to everything I do, but I would love to be able to have a networking group called “professional” and when I add you to it, you automatically have access to me on LinkedIn, see my HPCMfg Blog feeds, are linked to the ZoneMfg blog, and send are in my “professional contact” group on GoogleVoice. Folks who get added as friends get added to Facebook, Twitter, LastFM, Glue,StumbleUpon, get the feed to this blog, and are in my “friends” contact group on GoogleVoice. Music Lover? You get connected to me on AmieStreet, Glue, iLike, LastFM, get the feed for my Vox music review blog, and get the feed for all things I tag “music” on Delicious. Family? Techie?CurtainCall? Kids? Gardener? WebSurfer? All of these would be configured as different subsets of my activity online and I could add someone’s ID to as many of these groups as I wanted to customize and fine tune their access and our interactions. If anyone out there is working on this today, I want to BetaTest it.

edit: Phil Windley kindly pointed out that although the Graphing Social Patterns conference was presented by OReilly, IT Conversations is not associated with O’Reilly. I have corrected the original post text. ( I was also excited to note when I looked up his Twitter page, that Phil uses Glue.)

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