Do we need a distributed social web?

This (vastly simplified) diagram - summarises what the web used to look like.

Whole load of interconnected computers, whole load of interconnected websites, people browsing content solely on websites, bouncing from one website to another. Bloggers actively linking between each. Less people created content than were consuming content. No single point of failure. The mesh of connected computers allowed search engines to come along and swallow content by following the links between sites.

Currently the social web is controlled by a couple of sites,LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and now Google+. They have provided single points of contact where huge congregations of community share resources, thoughts and feelings. You push people in one end, combine with some content, and get interaction out the other end. This again simplified ) diagram signifies the disconnection of social networks from the rest of the internet. Note the walled garden sealing content. People are the only thing which bring content from one to the other, i.e. you and me are feeding the systems with links we want to share to each other.

Some of the content you and me are sharing on these networks exists elsewhere, is mere duplication, but the majority of content is fresh, relevant and locked away on platforms which are growing, and growing and growing. The trend of less people creating that consuming has shifted rapidly to a trend where nearly everyone is creating small little pieces of content, the micro-content ecosystem. -

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ (insert your fav social network here) all work in the exact same way. Attract people, people create content, content attracts people - network grows. This is how the social web works today. We have multiple profiles across each of the networks we join, that aren't shared. Even for all the identity services on the web that are out there, none of these platforms have managed to agree on single-sign on to identify us across platforms. It's all a massive race to attract the most people, and the most advertising dollars.

These platforms hold the cards, the firehose of your updates is theirs to sell, or do whatever they want to. Every social network relies on the crowd sourcing of content, with the social element powering motivation, and incentive. The old cliche of if you aren't paying for a product, chances are you ARE the product.

But what if the social web wasn't controlled by a single party or company? What if every piece of content we create, instead of going into a black hole controlled by some third party was open and available to whoever wanted to hear it for free, and free from any country specific censorship filter, as we have seen from Twitter.

Shouldn't we give control of the information we are sharing, back to the people who create it, rather than all the power going to a single company? What would the architecture of something like that look like?

Well, a lot of this is conceptual thinking right now, but lets say there is a universal social API. It consists of the following. A way to identify yourself via say (OpenID) ,a way to post content and finally a way to listen to channels for content. That API can be hosted by anyone, installed on any number of servers, and clients communicating with that API have a decentralised point of contact. When content is posted to that API, it instantly broadcasts out to anyone listening (originating from multiple servers). Kinda like blog pingback on steroids, but designed for micro content.

Clients to consume the content could take the form of something like Tweetdeck, or could be a Wordpress plugin which auto posts to the service, or could simply be a website that sends the appropriate API communication. Inside the API call, you can optionally forward any message you send via this new distributed social API to any of the other social networks of your choice, which removes any complaints of 'not another network' - essentially, it would be transparent, but with the ability to own and distribute the content openly.

The stream would be owned by no one.

Do we need a more distributed social web as part of the overall picture? I think so. Do we need to remove any one single service that will likely control a large slice of the web in the future - again. I think so.

I don't have all the technical answers,much of this thinking is pie in the sky stuff that I'm putting out there for feedback. But I know one thing. I'm not sure I like exactly where the web is heading, with a small number of individual gatekeepers with individual single points of failure. We've already seen that the Facebook javascript API took a nose dive recently, and there's been outages at every social network that I can think of which have been sizeable newsworthy events.

At least with a distributed social network, we could improve stability, AND no single entity has control over the distribution of your content.
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