Sunday, April 19, 2009

My Ideal Social Network

I'm relatively plugged in. I blog (you're soaking in it now!); I have a FriendFeed; I tweet (and those of you who need to know who I am probably already do); I'm on Google Reader; I used to be on Orkut until I started getting befriended by Brazilians I had never met; I'm on LinkedIn (spoiler alert! it discloses who Derivatives Company A and Big Bank B are). I've never gotten onto FaceBook, largely because I've never seen any attraction to it (and if I want to be super-poked, I'd just as soon meet you first, thank you very much).

I don't actually like any of them as a full aggregation basis. I know that FriendFeed is attempting to aggregate everything together, but it's not quite what I need or want.

So all you Web 2.0 guys, here's what I want:

  • Subscriber Control: I want to have control over who subscribes to my feeds. In particular, I need to be able to divide my life into at least four categories:
    • Technical Contacts. People who follow me because periodically I write about something someone might find potentially meaningful from a technical perspective.
    • Personal Friends. People who I know personally and might be interested in zoos and what train I got home.
    • Current Coworkers. The main crux here is that there are things that I might want to share with ex-coworkers and personal friends, but not the current ones I have to see every day.
    • Family/Near-Family [1]. These are people who might be interested in stuff going on in my life that I'm not ready to share with other categories.
    Note that nowhere in there is "random gits wot I don't know who want to voyeuristically follow my life." [2] When I do this, I need to be able to either pre-approve a subscriber to a feed, or silently dump a subscriber (see later).
  • Publication Buckets: I need to be able to publish any particular item into a bucket, or a whole feed into that bucket.
  • Single Republication: I need to be able to take a URL from anywhere (e.g. treat something from Google Reader the same way as something I type directly into a text box) and have it appear to consumers the same way no matter how they choose to subscribe. [3]
  • Single Inbox: Sometimes I consume stuff on my phone, sometimes I consume stuff on my laptop, sometimes I consume stuff from Random Web Application. I want "I read this" to mean the same thing on everything.
  • Selective Subscribes: I might want to read stuff by Zack Urlocker on MySQL and Sun, but really not care how many miles he ran that day [4]. I should be able to do that, combined with publication buckets.
  • API Access: Anything I do with your web app I need to be able to do from any arbitrary app, potentially outside your control.
  • Silent Unsubscribes: I need to be able to unsubscribe to someone without them knowing that I've done it. (More on why this is important anon).

Here's the thing about the silent unsubscribe thing. Social Networks largely thrive on number of connections, because that is Very Important to them. That's fine. But I need to be able to structure things in terms of feeds that I follow without feeling like I've given a slight to someone by not re-"friend"ing them (following/friending/whatever), or by dropping them later on. In particular, I may have personal friends who produce drivel I don't have the time or energy to keep up with, but I don't want to slight them by making my personal subscription/publication decisions transparent to them. Fixing this is the heart of the "social" part of networking, and is why eventually every single social network fails as the number of connections grows beyond the desire for humans to have contact to that level.

The core thing here is that this isn't about whether I'm friends with anybody. Many of the people that are my closest friends in the world don't participate in any of this stuff at all. It's about my ability to manage the flow of information in and out of myself that I deem relevant. That's a completely different matter, and the whole focus on "Social" Networks as being about friends and connections is rubbish: it's about my ability to selectively publish and subscribe to categorized feeds that are relevant to my interests at any given point in time.

Someone who can actually do web development should do this [5]. It would rock.


[1]: Note to readers: If I've ever camped out in your house, or you have offspring who refer to me as "Uncle Kirk", you're in here whether I share DNA segments with you or not.
[2]: Seriously, my life isn't actually that interesting. Except that I play with Pumas and Sun Bears and Ocelots and you don't.
[3]: Note that this may mean either compliance on the part of the republishing services (e.g. Google Reader), or it may mean that I have a queue of pending stuff that I have to process before it gets republished; I'm fine with both approaches working together.
[4]: I can say this. M7 Alumni In Da Hizzy!
[5]: Not it. I'm secure enough in my 5k1LLz that I can say that these days, you want me to stay as far the heck away from the browser in a day-to-day coding perspective as possible.
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