I Thought He Came With You is Robert Ellison’s blog about software, marketing, politics, photography and time lapse.

Fight Facebook with Email

Updated on Thursday, November 12, 2015

I was a little saddened to read today that Diaspora is transitioning over to some form of community manged slow death. I joined a pod a while back and was pretty impressed with the design. It was very similar to Google+: clean, nice features, nobody home. 

I've also joined app.net. The concept here is a social network that you pay for, so the owners are aligned with the interests of the users and developers rather than advertisers and lame brands. I wish app.net well, but it's not the future. Best case (and it's not a bad one) it could be the new WELL - a community that people care enough about to pay for (I was on the WELL in the early 90's, splitting the tab with a friend so our handle was abft, account built for two). If that is the direction it goes in then simply having a slightly longer post limit than Twitter isn't really going to cut it. And cool as it might be most people aren't going to pay for a social network. 

Any attempt to displace Facebook has to solve the problem that anyone interested in sharing anything with anyone else is already using Facebook. The only platform that is in any sense comparable is email. So someone needs to make email into a social network.

This could be an interesting startup. Create some account - [email protected] - anything you send directly to that address is a post. Anyone you copy is a mention. Reply to a thread with this email address included and you're replying on the social network as well. Anyone copied on such an email gets invited to the network if they're not already.

You've got a killer viral component and an instant social network that is supported on every platform with no investment needed. Everyone has email, and everyone is a member as soon as they claim their email address or get included in a post. 

Maybe someone has tried this already and I just haven't seen it. I'm half tempted to have a crack at it myself. 

What would be more interesting would be layering a social protocol over email, and implementing that protocol by proxy on top of email providers that don't or won't support it. This creates a core social service practically out of thin air. Facebook and Twitter are the new AOL and CompuServe. There has to be a way to leverage email into a free and open alternative.

Circles

Updated on Friday, February 24, 2017

 A Circle

I just got on Google+, and the Circles concept definitely moves the ball forward, but my heart sinks a little at having yet another disconnected social identity. It’s been said before, but it’s worth saying again – social networking needs to be an open, core internet standard like email. You can live on Facebook, Google, Twitter, wherever but your social graph should be independent of any specific service.

I don’t mean this in any (well, OK, a little) granola crunching open source way. Companies should compete to the death on their social graph implementation and added value. But the actual data on who your friends are should belong to you and should be both portable and interoperable. I should be able to friend someone on Google from within Facebook and share core items in both directions. If I get fed up of Facebook I should be able to move my graph and central identity elsewhere.

We’ve got OpenSocial, strangely not mentioned in the same breath as Google+, and Open Graph which is open for things but not people. Also FOAF, XUP, and other possible foundational standards. Of course the barriers here aren’t technical.

Altly wants to be Pepsi to Facebook’s Coke. I’m waiting to see what it tastes like, but it doesn’t sound like they’re itching to change the game.

Diaspora is an interesting project, but running instances (pods) of a social network is the wrong level of abstraction.

Of course ‘owning’ the graph is tremendously valuable and it’s hard to see Facebook giving this up anytime soon. If Google really don’t want to be evil they should use Google+ to liberate us from the tyranny of walled social gardens. Unless it turns out to be another Buzz or Wave in which case it’s down to us.