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Social Network Portability

Social network portability is one of several User Interface ideas and suggestions for working with microformats in the area of data-portability.

The Problem

Why is it that every single social network community site makes you:

  • re-enter all your personal profile info (name, email, birthday, URL etc.)?
  • re-add all your friends?

In addition, why do you have to:

  • re-turn off notifications?
  • re-specify privacy preferences?
  • re-block negative people?

AKA "social network fatigue problem" and "social network update/maintenance problem".

The Goals

When you join a new site, you should be able to import or preferably subscribe to

  • your profile information
  • your social network

from any existing profile of yours.

In addition it would be nice if preferences around:

also transferred between profiles.

AKA a social internetwork, a network of social networks.

Design Patterns and Recipes

The "How To" for social network profile sites that want to solve the above problems and achieve the above goals.

  1. Publish microformats in your user profiles:
    1. implement hCard on user profile pages, including XFN - The XHTML Friends Network rel="me" on hyperlinks to users' blogs or home pages that they specify. See hCard supporting user profiles for sites that have already done this.
    2. implement hCard+XFN on the list of friends on your user profile pages. Use XFN - The XHTML Friends Network rel="me" to link to friends list pages and friends list pagination links too. See hCard+XFN supporting friends lists for sites that already do this. (e.g. [Twitter]).
  2. Subscribe to microformats for your user profiles:
    1. when signing up a new user:
      1. let a user fill out and "auto-sync" from one of their existing hCard supporting user profiles, their name, their icon etc. Satisfaction Inc already supports this.
      2. let a user fill out and "auto-sync" their list of friends from one of their existing hCard+XFN supporting friends lists. already supports this.



Open Source

User Interfaces

Social Network Portability FAQ

  • Doesn't OpenID address the re-enter all your personal profile info problem?
    • No it does not. OpenID is fundamentally about proving to one site that you own or control another particular URL. Nothing more. All the profile stuff is extra and even then the specific property set is unspecified in OpenID. That's where hCard comes in. hCard specifies a vocabulary of personal profile info (name, email, birthday, URL etc.) based on industry standard vCard. And in fact that's all you need to solve the "re-enter all your personal info" problem for public sites - no need to authenticate public URLs via OpenID, just read them and parse their hCard(s).
  • Doesn't OpenID provide people with a way to create a globally unique identifier for themselves?
    • It is URL (by way of DNS) that creates a globally unique identifier, not OpenID. All OpenID does is add authentication on top of having a URL that is itself a globally unique identifier, that is, OpenID is a way of asserting that you "own" or otherwise control a particular URL to another service/site. The essential quality of being a globally unique identifier is present in a URL even without OpenID. Thus, no, it is not OpenID that creates a globally unique identifier, rather, simply using a URL creates a globally unique identifier. A URL by itself can be used as a basis for portable social networks, since it provides a way of referring to a single person that makes sense across the whole Web. And as such, people can (and will) create multiple URLs that represent them, so a method of enabling people to tie their URLs together (e.g. XFN's rel="me") becomes important. However, by adding authentication, OpenID can enhance existing globally unique identifier URLs for people, by permitting authenticated access to (perhaps more information in) profiles and social networks represented at those URLs using microformats.


Discussion and suggestions


See ma.gnolia Portable Social Network Group for aggregated bookmarks around the subject and join the group to share links.

View blog reactions to this page.


See also

Related Events and Notes

(if you know of or can find earlier mentions on the web of "social network portability", please add the earliest reference elsewhere on the web to this chronology. Tantek 08:25, 22 Aug 2007 (PDT))

See the microformats Microformats events page for upcoming events related to social network portability.