Identity and interoperable social networking

Social networking and social media have been near the top of my mind since our senior pastor first announced our Internet campus initiative.  I see social networking as the primary method of reaching our target audience – tech-savvy people who "live" online.  The Internet campus will grow as participants share church-generated content with friends through social networking technologies and as participants create their own content in response.

Since I first began posting on this topic, I have repeatedly mentioned the issue of online identity because I think the lack of an open, portable identity system is already putting a drag on the adoption rate of social networking and social media sites.  There are simply too many sites, too many accounts, and too much maintenance required.  User fatigue is setting in.

Recently, there have been a number of encouraging technological developments.  This week came the announcement that Google, IBM, Microsoft, VeriSign and Yahoo! have joined the OpenID Foundation.  OpenID is gathering steam.  This is most welcome.

The second major technological issue is the lack of an open, portable way to exchange social graph data.  (Of course, identity data and social graph data are closely related.)  OpenSocial got some buzz when it was first announced in November.  Unfortunately, our hope was short lived when we realized that Facebook wouldn’t allow us to access its data and pull that data into applications outside of Facebook.

This week Brad Fitzpatrick of Google announced the Google Social Graph API.  As part of its normal search indexing, Google is now crawling the Web for XFN and FOAF markup and provides whatever it has found to calling applications via their API.  Matt Bradshaw of our team and Web Empowered Church has already built a simple application using the API.  As soon as he has a web UI for it, I’ll post it here so you can play around with it.  I can’t overstate how cool this stuff is.  When you see it in action, you’ll immediately grok the significance.  This is a major step along the path of interoperability and portability.

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