Jeremy, I’m working on something very much like this - combining data from as many social networks (currently Twitter, Flickr, LiveJournal and last.fm) as possible and exporting them as both FOAF and XHTML with XFN/hCard with the intention of importing in to sites like Dopplr.
Here’s a list of websites on which I have an account and which involve some form of social networking. I’m listing them in order of how often I visit. I’m also listing how many contacts/buddies/friends/connections/people I have on each site.
This is just a snapshot of activity so some of the data may be slightly skewed. Pownce, for instance, is quite a new site so my visits may increase or decrease dramatically over time. Also, though I’ve listed Del.icio.us as a daily visit, it’s really just the bookmarklet or Adactio Elsewhere that I use every day—I hardly ever visit the site itself.
In general, the more often I use a service, the more likely I am to have many connections there. But there are some glaring exceptions. I have hardly any connections on Del.icio.us because the social networking aspect is fairly tangential to the site’s main purpose.
More interestingly, there are some exceptions that run in the other direction. I have lots of connections on Linked in and Facebook but I don’t use them much at all. In the case of Linked in, that’s because I don’t really have any incentive. I’m sure it would be a different story if I were looking for a job.
As for Facebook, I really don’t like the way it tries to be a one-stop shop for everything. It feels like a walled garden to me. I much prefer services that choose to do one thing but do it really well:
- Flickr for photos,
- Dopplr for travel,
- Del.icio.us for bookmarks,
- Upcoming for events and
- Last.fm for music.
Mind you, there’s now some crossover in the events space when the events are musical in nature. The next Salter Cane concert is on Last.fm but it links off to the Upcoming event … which then loops back to Last.fm.
I haven’t settled on a book reading site yet. It’s a toss-up between Anobbii and Revish. It could go either way. One of the deciding factors will be how many of friends use each service. That’s the reason why I use Twitter more than Jaiku. Jaiku is superior in almost every way but more of my friends use Twitter. Inertia keeps me on Twitter. It’s probably just inertia that keeps me Del.icio.us rather than Ma.gnolia.
The sum total of all my connections on all these services comes to 890. But of course most of these are the same people showing up on different sites. I reckon the total amount of individual people doesn’t exceed 250. Of that, there’s probably a core of 50 people who I have connected to on at least 5 services. It’s for these people that I would really, really like to have portable social networks.
Each one of the services I’ve listed should follow these three steps. In order of difficulty:
- Provide a publicly addressable list of my connections. Nearly all the sites listed already do this.
- Mark up the list of connections with hCard and, where appropriate, XFN. Twitter, Flickr, Ma.gnolia, Pownce, Cork’d and Upcoming already do this.
- Provide a form with a field to paste the URL of another service where I have suitably marked-up connections. Parse and attempt to import connections found there.
That last step is the tricky one. Dopplr is the first site to attempt this. That’s the way to do it. Other social networking sites, take note.
It’s time that social networking sites really made an effort to allow not just the free flow of data, but also the free flow of relationships.
It’s a very interesting idea you put forward and one I was investigating myself after being inspired by your Hackfight project.
I use far less social networking sites than you, but like you all of my friends are spread across all of them. I was thinking of a project to use the available API’s to link all my contacts across all social networks.
But after looking at a number of the API’s, although you can read a users contact list on a number of the sites, you cannot create new links through the API’s - so that plan fell on it’s face.
Maybe we can pressure the Facebook/Last.fm/Twitter/Flickr/Upcoming/… sites out there to open up their API’s a little further to allow new contacts to be added.
As you point out, with hCard and XFN growing in popularity, it should be relatively simple.