Saturday, December 29, 2007

Externalizing user profile data... and the social graph

Efforts like Mozilla's Weave and OpenID make for a compelling option to finally externalize a user's complete profile. Imagine being able to define (in a secure, encrypted way of course):
  • Name, Email, et al basic stats
just once and then use a single login to access multiple sites. The concept is definitely nothing new: companies have done it for a while on their Intranets using various SSO solutions.

Obviously, this gets a bit trickier when propagated outside the firewall and across multiple domains. Who "owns" the profile data? Where is it stored (and how)? Weave is just now getting launched, but if they can nail in reality the concept as documented:

This would provide key benefits for us all -- and probably help drive further adoption of Firefox. In addition, I think it's possible to incorporate storage of social graph elements here. Then things will get interesting as "switching costs" are removed. Any sites will have to live or die based on the features they provide, and not just because our data (e.g. list of friends) is stored there.

Feasibility on this remains to be seen, but if things head in this direction it could fundamentally change the dynamics for the Web 2.0 market.

Update on Tuesday, 1/1:

I should have figured that somebody else had already given this much more pondering... Brad Fitzpatrick's Thoughts on the Social Graph is a MUST READ!!!

And Ujwal Tickoo reconfirms the idea

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Facebook - this too shall pass?

David Sacks provides an excellent view on how portals have been fundamentally redefined since their inception:

He further asserts that each transition was due to surpassing what I'll call a critical data saturation mark that drastically reduced the usefulness of the previous method. In short, applying simple aggregation logic will not scale since
The core question a portal needs to answer for a user is “How do I find the information I need?”
and the ability of a portal to do so is inversely proportional to the underlying volume of data. Summarizing or segmenting things only helps to reduce the volume for a while. However as the portal gains critical mass, it will eventually succumb to the same underlying force.

Couple this with a fantastic article by Tom Gruber on Collective Knowledge Systems which predicts:
Today, that interaction pattern treats the web as an information source: we learn by browsing, searching, and monitoring the web. Tomorrow, the web will be understood as an active human-computer system, and we will learn by telling it what we are interested in, asking it what we collectively know, and using it to apply our collective knowledge to address our collective needs.
In my opinion, shifting from collected to collective intelligence will be the next major transition. Whether this is done as an entirely new site or as an app within Facebook, we'll see... but one thing's for sure: aggregating popularity-based metrics alone will encounter the same inherent limitations as previous cycles.

Update on Friday, 12/28:

Jeremiah nails another force at play here:
...we’re all looking to see how social graph will open up and let us migrate freely between networks. THEN the need to build best of breed social platforms will be needed.
If this is added to the mix, it will provide a catalyst for all of the above.

Yes, FB is more than just a portal and I'm very much a fan of it, not a foe. However, after the glitter wanes a bit it'll be back to basics. Perhaps something like Mozilla Labs Weave or planned extensions to OpenID might set the proper foundation to open up the social graph... give us a kind of "social transportability" that will move things to the next level? If so, it would undoubtedly force solid competition based on the features of the actual platform -- and not just who happens to store the graph.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

You can't legislate Darwinism

When I took my first job working for a software vendor (in 1996), one of my co-workers was adamant that the "Wild West" days of development were drawing to a close. More structure and licensing requirements were sure to come, as with other professions... Doctors, Lawyers, etc. Poor software quality would be litigated / mitigated thru resulting legislation.

Thankfully, more than 10 years later such regulation never occurred, but an even more powerful force does fill the need: Open Source.

When the world can see the naked, unvarnished quality of your code, there's nothing you can hide. If it's junk, they'll spot it. If it's beautifully architected, they'll admire it... in fact, some may contribute to the code base directly to inject new features.

OSS products will live or die based on utility as well as quality. No amount of legislation could ever have the same (positive) impact.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Organizational Structure - Impact on Innovation

During most of my career, I've been in large Corporate organizations. There was usually room for both Managers (multiple levels) and Leaders. However, innovation from the latter rarely had any impact on the business. That was for managers to decide, and their goals almost never aligned.

Recently, I experienced the exact opposite of this dilemma. A much flatter hierarchy that's run mostly by consensus. Everyone gets a voice. Topics are debated. Actions are assigned. Politics are minimal. What an invigorating shift!!

Of course, this requires a different culture. But when it clicks, the results are amazing.