There's a meme growing on the web about social networks and identity... and I thought I'd inject my opinion before it grows into some kind of wretched mutant...
Firstly there was the long-standing opinion of Read/Write Web about the attention economy: concerning that the pages a person visits on site A is incredibly valuable to site B... Similar to how info about previous Amazon purchases would really help NetFlix, and vice versa. I liked their analysis, but I think they missed the point. Then there was the article in Wired about opening up Facebook: shouldn't Facebook be required to open up their APIs so people can copy them more easily? Um... yeah, that'll happen...
That was followed by the decent analysis by Nishant Kaushik from Oracle about how social software sites are popular only because there is no internet-wide identity management scheme. I don't believe Nishant went far enough... a distributed, user-centric identity scheme would destroy almost every "walled garden" social software application on the web... Which is exactly the reason why very few people would choose to implement it.
The true next generation of social software will embrace and share identity -- like del.icio.us does -- and thus enable users to replace old-school identity silos in a flash.
Think about it: if we had an internet-wide user-centric identity scheme (like SXIP/OpenID), then I could identify -- in one single place -- what my likes, dislikes, bookmarks, and contacts are. I wouldn't have to copy all my LinkedIn contacts into Facebook. I wouldn't have to tell every news site that I dig technology. I wouldn't need a hundred passwords... They would all just work together, and know me!
Or, more specifically, I would log in with my internet-wide username and password... then the apps would ask me if they could sync with my identity management server for contacts and interests. Then I would explicitly choose yes or no depending on what site I'm connecting to.
Personally, if del.icio.us offered some kind of SXIP/OpenID implementation, I'd use it in a flash... I already have all my bookmarks there, along with my tags. I've always said, my tag cloud says more about me than any customer survey I've ever taken... Del.icio.us is truly sitting on a goldmine that could destroy StumbleUpon, if they only knew how.
The Wired guys noted that it takes very little effort to duplicate 90% of what Facebook does... Nishant correctly states that the remaining 10% is totally solved with internet-wide identity management. I'm not sure if he's backing the right horse -- IGF style governance documents??? WTF??? -- but he has the right idea.
Frankly, Mark Zuckerberg, the wannabe-Steve-Jobs-CEO-of-Facebook, is really close to screwing the pooch on this one. He's sitting on a house of cards, not a goldmine. If Yahoo offers $1 billion for your company, frigging take it! Hell, if they offer $50 million its a bargain... unless you're certain you can con somebody else into offering more. Then jerk around the jerks for as much as you can get.
But don't take too long: once Ning dumps their NingID in favor of OpenID, Facebook's days are numbered. And frankly, if Ning was motivated, that could happen in under a month.
Sorry to bring this to your attention, capitan fleece, but somebody had to.