I’ve been enjoying twittering over on Twitter recently (here I am). If you hate blogs because you think they’re full of people rambling about pointless details of their mundane lives you’ll hate Twitter, which makes it as easy as possible to post snippets to the web (and your friends’ phones and instant messengers) letting everyone know exactly what you’re doing RIGHT NOW. I’m not sure how much I’ll use it when the novelty wears off but it reminded me of a couple of ideas I had recently. Here’s the first, with the second to come later…
When I signed up on Twitter my whole body groaned as I realised I had to build another bloody social network. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to tell computers who my friends are. I really, really want a single service where I can say “these people are my friends” and then when I sign up to any new website I can sync it with my previously-defined social network.
You’d sign up to the service and your network of friends would be stored there. When you sign up to Twitter (for example) you’d give it your account details for this new service and Twitter would fetch the list of your friends and match them up with any existing Twitter accounts. Hey presto, you’ve just avoided hunting for all your friends on a new website. A benefit for Twitter (or whoever) could be that they have an option for you to invite every one of your friends who doesn’t already have a Twitter account.
Of course, this is all easier said than done but so many people spend so much time reconstructing lists of friends that it must be worthwhile trying to find a solution. To succeed it would need some major social networky sites to cooperate and enable their code to work with the new service, so it’s as much a political/financial problem as a technical one.
One obvious technical problem is how to identify people. How do you say “this person on Flickr is the same as this person on Twitter”? It could be that any site wanting to use the service would have to identify users by the same method, email addresses being the obvious choice.
Another difficulty is the different social groups we have for different situations. I’d want to be connected to different people on LiveJournal than I would on Linked In. Maybe our new service could let you group your contacts into whatever groups you liked: “Best friends”, “People at work”, “Old school friends”, etc. Then, when joining a new service, you could just say “Connect me with all the contacts in my ‘Best friends’ and ‘People at work’ groups”.
This system could also help keep your network up to date on each site. Let’s say I’ve signed up with Twitter, and told it about my social network, and it’s magically connected me with all its users who are also in my network. But one of my friends isn’t on Twitter yet. If he joins Twitter in the future, Twitter knows that he was in my social network, double-checks with the service to see if he still is, and then automatically adds him to my network of Twitter friends.
Of course, if this service did exist, we’d have to populate it with our social networks to get going. Ideally it would be possible to work things in reverse, so I could say “here’s my Flickr account, import all my Contacts”, saving you much of the hassle.
Yes, I’m glossing over horribly huge difficulties with permissions and identities and synchronisation and profits and chickens and eggs and the effort sites would have to put in to work with the new service, but wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if this could be made to work?