The Social Web is Distributed – So How Do We Manage It?

The Social Web is Distributed - So How Do We Manage It?As a developer, I often use the Git version control system to retain a history of my projects as they progress. Git has another advantage, though, in the fact that it has a distributed nature. There is no central location from which you push to and pull from your project. Sure, you might work on your project locally and push to an external service such as GitHub, but if you really wanted to, you could have others pull directly from you, or directly from GitHub, and subsequently push to new locations on a whim. Simply put, there is no central repository with Git. It is entirely distributed. The distributed concept has, in a sense, revolutionized how projects are worked on by individuals as well as groups, and tools such as Git have enabled that concept to flourish and succeed.

The “Social Web,” by which I mean the nifty little corner of the Internet dedicated to social networking and media, is distributed and decentralized, too. You might have an account on Twitter, but also Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, and so on. If you are like me, you probably have multiple tabs open every day, flip through the various networks, check up on the latest happenings of each, and interact with the individual communities that you have grown and fostered. Or, you might be more focused in your networking endeavors and opt to participate in one social network at a time, closing the last tab when you want to move on to the next one on the list for the day. However you hit the nail, though, would it not make sense to have a tool that enabled you to manage all of your networks at once and with ease? A tool that would bring your decentralized life on the Web to a hub of sheer social awesomeness.

Wow, wouldn’t that be neat?

Ping.fm was an excellent start to this idea, allowing users to publish their thoughts and content to a variety of networks and outlets, all with the press of a single button. Of course, Seesmic bought Ping.fm way back when, and now it plans to drop it in favor of its subscription-based service called Seesmic Ping. If it serves no other purpose, really, this new tool should emulate the Ping.fm of old, enabling the quick sharing of content and ideas to all of a user’s social networks. At the present, I post to Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ separately, occasionally neglecting one or two, and entirely neglecting my other networks like poor old LinkedIn. I don’t want to do that; it makes me feel bad.

This tool shouldn’t be another social network. Let’s get this point straight: We do not need any more social networks. Of course I say that, but there is probably some genius out there who sees a niche where a new network would be appropriate. In such a case, more power to them, but for the intents of the average socialite on the Web, the existing band of networks pretty much has our needs covered. In fact, we wouldn’t even need this tool if there was only one social network. If that were the case, however, there would be only one social network — one dominating force on the Internet with control over and access to the details of every single person’s life. We can’t have that, either. So we have more than one, but at the same time a plenty plethora of them so as to keep the game fair and balanced. If we added yet another network, we’d just end up with a bigger problem. If you need any further coaxing on this particular topic, please refer to this insightful XKCD comic.

Better than not creating a new social network, this tool shouldn’t even let people sign up for its services — in the traditional sense of signing up, of course, where the user enters a desired username, password, email, etc. Why do this when the poor souls have already created accounts on the numerous other networks that this tool is trying to unify? Let us not be evil and, instead, make things simple. The tool would make use of the OAuth standard and have a person log in with a variety of networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or others. If a network doesn’t provide an OAuth scheme, it doesn’t get to be a part of the party. After a person logs in with one network, they can then associate that account with their other accounts by logging into those with OAuth. Then, when they log in to the tool with any of these accounts, their unified experience is all right there. See? Distributed.

As specified earlier, by using this tool you wouldn’t need to go to each individual social network in order to post and share content and ideas. This is great and all, but once you’ve sent out your message to the world, you still probably want to see all the feedback that message receives from all of these networks. This would normally involve visiting each and every site to which you’ve published your content and interacting with each individual community of which you are a part. That sounds incredibly annoying to me, so I think that this tool should aggregate all the responses and feedback related to a particular post you’ve sent out and display it in a single, unified, orderly stream. Perhaps it would aggregate the main stream of content from your social networks as well (your Facebook News Feed, Twitter Feed, etc.), but above all it needs to aggregate the responses from all of your networks so that you can post and interact from one location. Boy, that sounds nice, too.

This tool should also, just for the heck of it, open up an API that allows you to retrieve a list of social network accounts associated with a specified account. For example, you specify a Twitter username and get that individual’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, etc. This API might have tons of applications. Imagine using Twitter (assume that, for some reason, you aren’t using this beautiful tool I’ve been talking about and have reverted to Twitter’s interface) and hovering over a username. Just then, a browser extension kicks into action and shows you a list of all the social networks associated with that Twitter username, by way of this tool’s API. That feature alone might just be invaluable beyond anything else.

So, to recap, this tool:

  • Is not another social network.
  • Allows you to publish to a plethora of social networks at once.
  • Aggregates content and community responses to your own content from your social networks to one place.
  • Enables developers to discover the rest of a person’s social presence from a single social network account.

Does a tool such as this exist? If so, I have yet to find it. As such, I am currently working on my own implementation of this tool. Let this article then be a sort of contract for myself, promising to get something out, even if it is only a small part of this huge picture. If I have the guilt of a thousand LockerGnome readers on my back, there’s no doubt I will complete it one of these days. With that said, happy nagging!

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  • http://twitter.com/Harold Harold

    Nag. (That’s me, nagging.) I want to see a tool like this. I’m also glad to learn that I’m not the only one wondering if such a tool already exists. (And if there is such a tool, then why haven’t we heard of it yet? It must not be a good enough one to have warranted enough attention to create a blip on our radars.)

    It sounds like an ambitious undertaking, but if you can get something out — even if, as you’ve acknowledged, it turns out to be “only a small part of this huge picture” — then I’d say it’s a worthwhile project. 

  • http://robertglenfogarty.com/ Robert Glen Fogarty

    I second what Harold said! Something like this would be a real benefit to just about anyone who uses the Internet these days. I wish you luck, Eddie! Wait… not luck. I know you have the ability to pull something like this off without it. How about time? I wish you time, Eddie!

  • Michael Birks

    “ThinkUp” (http://thinkupapp.com/) is sorta/kinda an attempt in the direction you’re looking for.

    At the moment, it’s more like a backup or archive of your posts to Twitter and Facebook, with some crude analytics patched on, not the fully interactive front-end you’re talking about