in post

Catching up on my reading on social networks

I've been catching up on my tech reading after the summer. In particular, I've been interested to see some developments regarding social networks. First of all, Twitter has been busy restricting use of its API and commercializing its operations. In parallel, a new social network called app.net has started up, based on a subscription $50 per year model. (I think I like Pinboard's model better.) Meanwhile, the Diaspora team have retired and turned development over to the community. Despite their hype, it looks like they have thrown in the towel. Friendica too, headed by Mike MacGirvin, has declared defeat - at least of the original distributed model - due to a) lack of popularity and b) the trend towards restrictive APIs of other networks which limit interoperability. Status.net and its free hosted identi.ca server seem to be continuing. It has everything that app.net can offer. Its code is already developed, the service is up and running, and it is free. In some ways, it works better than Twitter. With its mixture of free open source packages and paid services, Status.net operates in a similar way to the proven model of Automattic / WordPress.

The main challenge of all of these networks is to obtain a large-enough user base. It's as if there is only room (outside of niche markets) for Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Tumblr, and a couple of others. Maybe MacGirvin is right in maintaining that the distributed model will eventually succeed.

Yet somehow the case reminds me of instant messaging. In the 1990s there were several competing services and user complaints about their lack of interoperability. A few companies tried to create a catch-all basket for the various services. AOL and others tried to block them. Now, nobody seems to care any more. People subscribe to multiple services and manage as best they can. Similarly, with the social networks, people cross-post, or share in whatever service they have open at the time. They suffer the inconveniences of advertizing, and of algorithms that hide their content, and adopt a cavalier attitude towards privacy. It's all very hit-and-miss. Experience shows that there is a greater likelihood that people will live with the failings of their networks than that they will vote for a free distributed universal standard.

With the TENT protocol - another innovative idea to emerge this summer - there has been some progress on another front towards such a standard. My tech knowledge is not sufficient to understand what advantage the adoption of such a protocol could give over the existing protocols employed by services like Friendica and Status.net.