Freedom! – Opening the Social Graph and all of its data

Braveheart battle-cryThere has been tons of buzz lately over the “Social Graph”: an atrocious misnomer (won’t get into why) which is used by Mark Zuckerberg to mean “the data which represents all of a user’s social connections”. Facebook is getting a $10 billion to $15 billion valuation because they “own” this graph, and the entire world of developers is supposed to be forced to bow and write all future social web-applications as facebook apps.

While I would still consider it a decent investment in Facebook at this point because they have this data locked down, I cannot support this tyranny. It is not only intuitive, but now also the general internet consensus that users own their own data.

So what on earth are we to do? Free the data! Brad Fitzpatrick of LiveJournal/OpenID fame and David Recordon who worked with Brad on OpenID stirred up this whole movement in Brad’s widely cited braindump. They laid the groundwork for an uncentralized set of tools to use microformats and clever spidering to figure out a user’s ownership of several accounts from a single place and calculate all of their friendships to find missing links. Missing links would be for example, if you have someone in your gmail contact-list and as a facebook friend, but you don’t follow their twitter account.

Subsequently, both of these hackers have built code and convinced their companies to open their data and have made announcements to that effect – Brad at Google and David at Six Apart.

I’ve been involved in the conversation a bit, and as I’ve mentioned before, I think that not just friendships, but other data is an equally important part of a user’s data, and they need to own that too.

Right now, the users’ data is spread throughout many silos: their photos in Flickr, their blog posts on wordpress, etc.. This is a major limitation and is starting to get on people’s nerves. As of right now, there is no �bersilo where a user can sync up their info and social connections.

The solution? A commercial, but completely open site which lets a user aggregate all of their frienship data AND all of their other data (photos, videos, blog posts, tweets, bookmarks, etc.). This data can then be pushed to other networks on the demand of the user. Furthermore, the user can export all of this data in a standard format and just up and leave the site if they don’t like how they’re being treated. Beyond that, new social applications will be able to implement an API that can pull the user’s data down for them (only with their permission of course).

Side note: I bounced this idea off of Brad Fitzpatrick who said I should “go for it”… there really is no conflict of interest in being a commercial site in an open endeavor.

This solution would have to exhibit several traits:

entry posted to:
SeanColombo.com
Motive Blog
  • No compliance required – to be useful, this tool has to work with the most popular networks, even before they explicitly open their data through APIs. Since users are accessing their own data, this doesn’t violate ethics or terms of service… it just takes more code to accomplish this.
  • Extensibility – it has to be easy to add an arbitrary amount of new networks even if the site doesn’t have any idea what these networks are. Likewise, it has to be equally easy to add new types of data. For instance, tweets were a new concept… the system has to be able to sync up with entirely new types of data seamlessly.
  • Portability – it’s the problem we’re here to solve, so obviously this tool can’t lock down the data. It has to go to absurd lengths to make sure the data can be moved around easily.
  • Clarity – everyday users don’t know what all this “social graph”, “XFN”, “FOAF”, “microformat” talk is. The tool has to be extremely easy to comprehend for all users, not just �ber-geeks and technocrats.
  • Privacy & Controlthe user has to be the one in control of the data. Not the tool… not the social networks accessing this ubersilo… the user. They have to control what goes where, and they need to be able to easily control how this data will be accessed on other sites.

Sounds pretty sweet, huh? Well I’m not one to sit back and watch an important fight from the sidelines… I’m going to have to do something about this.

LyricWiki combines forces with Pedlr

LyricWiki.org which has been by far our most successful site to date with lyrics to over 200,000 songs and 150,000 views per day – has been rolled into the world’s first Social Marketplace – Pedlr as the new lyrics.pedlr.com!

This will be great for both sites and will serve as a good springboard to get more users on the site before its formal launch on February 26th.

We’ve been working on Pedlr for five months now, and it is our biggest project ever. This Social Marketplace blends ecommerce and marketing tools into the more traditional social network to create a new dynamic where even indie musicians (or soon – artists, photographers, filmmakers) have the power to sell their digital content directly to their fans!

If you read this blog… suffice it to say that the most profound thing I could say on this blog pales with the statement that I’m trying to make with my code on Pedlr. To see what I truly mean on this blogsign up for Pedlr – you won’t be disappointed.

FIQL.com using LyricWiki.org as lyrics source

FIQL.com has just completed their beta and released the full version of their site. Included on the playlist pages is now a link to visit LyricWiki.org for the lyrics if that song is already on our site. The way they determine if the song exists or not is by using the API that was created at their urging, and expanded into a full webservice (still under construction) at the urging of a plugin-developer who is working on a media-player (WMP, iTunes, WinAmp, etc.) using this SOAP webservice. It’s exciting that the API is already being used, and it’s not even technically out yet.

On another exciting note, I’ll be at Wikimania 2006 this weekend to promote LyricWiki and to learn more about the community. If you’re going to the conference, look for me… I’ll be wearing this shirt.

Lastly, we’ve been contacted by a ticket-sales website that wants to offer tickets through links similar to the amazon links currently on the site. This is a welcome change, because the site is draining money fast, and I’d much prefere to put targeted links on individual pages where they are relevant than to slap some Google AdWords on the pages (which may end up happening eventually). As an example, you wouldn’t be bothered by links everywhere, but if you happened to be on the Tool page and Tool was on tour, you’d have a link to find those tickets you couldn’t seem to get your hands on. More on this to come!

WetPaint – a wiki system bound for greatness

==Intro==
There is a new wiki-system called WetPaint that I recently had a chance to preview before its official launch (it then launched on June 19th, 2006). Before I get into this further, I want to point out a couple of things:

  1. I run the world’s largest wiki next to wikipedia: LyricWiki.org [1, 2], and this has given me quite a bit of experience dealing with and thinking about wikis.
  2. I have no vested interest in promoting WetPaint. I get pretty complementary in this article, so just remember that they’re not paying me or giving me any incentive. If I say their code is good it’s because… it’s good.

==The Scoop==
Although I still like the MediaWiki software that I use to run LyricWiki.org – the same software used on Wikipedia – I think it is safe to say that it’s been trumped. WetPaint uses MS-Word-like editing to remove the otherwise-substantial learning curve from contributing to a wiki. It’s sprinkled with AJAX to make the process faster, and it fixes a number of problems that come with MediaWiki and many other popular wiki tools. The way WetPaint works is that they host wikis, and they get revenue from some Google AdWords in the bottom of the right-hand column of the page. In the first two weeks after their launch, over 6,000 sites were created [3]. A couple of these sites (set up during the private beta) appear to have been set up by Wetpaint themselves to show off the system – and presumably because the sites are useful anyway – including wikiCancer and wikiPregnancy.

==Advantages==
I noticed several interesting things when poking around Wetpaint. Many of these features I only noticed because they were unfortunately absent in MediaWiki. Anyway, here’s the beef…

  • The links to add a new page are very prominent, and it’s really easy to create sub-pages also. When creating a page, it will warn you as you are writing if the page name is a duplicate.
  • Wetpaint makes very good use of tags. They’re easy to add, and they have a tag-cloud on the side of the page to make it easy for people to get intrigued and bounce around your site.
  • Altough I have no benchmarks and there don’t seem to be any available online yet, Wetpaint seems significantly faster than the bloated MediaWiki. This is partially because Wetpaint uses AJAX so that only parts of the page need to be sent back and forth, and partially because MediaWiki is significantly slower than it should be – but I digress.
  • The site is fairly cross-browser compatible. It supports Firefox 1.0.7 and higher (PC & Mac) and IE 6.0 for PCs [4]. That’s not phenomenal for a wiki, but it’s really good as far as most AJAX sites go. The much-lauded ajaxWrite receives all sorts of attention even though it requires Firefox which abandons the vast majority of web users.
  • Editing is intuitive and intentionally similar to Microsoft Word, effectively eliminating the learning curve for most users. As a person who runs a wiki (or four), I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. Not only have I spent countless hours correcting the pages created by people who don’t know how to deal with the proprietary wikitext-markup of each system, but I’ve also had to waste hours of coding-time making forms to make data-entry more intuitive.
  • The comment system they made has the potential to be very viral. This may have existed in some wiki engines before – since there are so many of them – but I sure haven’t seen it. The only potential drawback I see with it is that visitors might get lost amongst the flame-wars and forget to come back to the content.
  • There is an auto-generated site map. This is good for search engines and for lost visitors. On the flipside, I checked it out a larger sitemap though, and it appears that it doesn’t scale itself yet. Therefore, if you have a humongous wiki (50,000 pages or so), this page may get to be a bit ridiculous.

==How Wetpaint can become the dominant wiki design==
Wetpaint is one sweet pile of code. There is no reason that a system as well-created as Wetpaint can’t become the dominant wiki design. Since I’ve had some good luck in the wiki-industry, I’ll wax-prophetic for a moment on how Wetpaint can make sure they become the dominant design.

  • Develop importing from other wikis. This decreases switching costs allowing many of the other well-established wikis to abandon their former engines. WordPress did this with a very high level of success in blogging-software.
  • Make a developer network! This is important. If they make a SOAP webservice and encourage developers to make plugins, skins, and utilize their API for other programs and mashups, there is a great deal of potential for really cool things to be created. Things that would further Wetpaint’s grasp on the market. In addition to the basics, they should have a very strong platform for letting wiki-owners easily create bots. Wikis with bots are far more effective than those without bots. Since wikis have one structure and many different types of sites are crammed into them, normal maintenance through the database is hard. In the case of Wetpaint it would actually be impossible since it is a hosting solution (it just wouldn’t be safe). If a wiki-admin can create a powerful bot, they can keep their site from becoming messy.
  • They need a wiki about their own site.
  • Get Business 2.0 and their blog to worship Wetpaint (as they should)
  • Think about alternate business models (sell a CD with an archive in a specially browseable format, possibly publish books from the content). The only reason I can think of that the majority of wikis aren’t going to jump onto Wetpaint like geese on June bugs (that was lame) is that they are only a hosted solution. See below for more on this.
  • Bonus: Some sort of anti-spam solution. Spamming is one of the biggest problems with wikis today. If they could think of a way to combat it, they would have a strong competitive advantage.

==Hosted versus installed==
Right now, Wetpaint has joined the ranks of JotSpot, pbwiki, Wikia, and Atlassian as a hosted-wiki provider. I have full confidence that they can dispatch of those companies fairly well. It will take some time though, because they all seem to have some Bubble 2.0 cash to burn through.If they are happy enough with this, then so be it. But if they want to be the only standard for wikis, they have to figure out a way to compete with installed wiki software. When companies have their own servers, they are often more than happy to use installed wikis even for their enterprise wikis which eats at Wetpaint’s potential market. The reason I run MediaWiki instead of switching over to Wetpaint is that by installing an open source package, you have full control. If LyricWiki does decide to put Google AdWords on the side of my page, LyricWiki will get the money. In addition, I have the option (which I have exercised quite a bit) to change the code around to make it better suit my needs. Of course, I have to concede to the hosted-sites that upgrading MediaWiki is a pain, especially when you have modified some of the code in a way other than an official extension.

==Conclusion===
Wetpaint is awesome, there is no doubting that. The code is top-notch and the management seem to know what they’re doing. This site is going one direction… up! In times when the 2.0 bubble is spawning countless new businesses based solely on buzzwords, it’s nice to see a company do it right and use the new tools available to build a solid, easy-to-use product. Good job guys.

==Sources Cited==
1: WikiStats by S23 – List of largest Wikis http://s23.org/wikistats/wikis_html.php
2: List of Largest wikis http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/List_of_largest_wikis
3: Email-conversation with Chris Kollas of WetPaint.
4: About Wetpaint Sites – Frequently Asked Questions http://faq.wetpaint.com/page/1.%20About%20Wetpaint%20Sites

==Additional Sources==
* More browser statistics http://www.w3schools.com/browsers/browsers_stats.asp
* List of the top 100 wikis on Wetpaint http://www.wetpaint.com/more

New Blogging System!
entry posted to:
Codeaholics Code-blog
Codeaholics News
iHateCSS.org
SeanColombo.com
Motive Blog

I have several blogs, all with different topics. One of the reasons I haven’t been updating them enough to meet my satisfaction is that there is some overlap in the subject-matter, and I am often confused on where to post to.

I decided recently that I should start burning through my list of articles to write, and to help this along, I wrote a cross-blog posting system. It’s pretty nifty because it posts to a WordPress v1.5, WordPress v2.0.3, and my own custom blogging system that I wrote for Codeaholics.

My personal site will generally serve as the aggregator and (probably) get every article, along with links out to each of the blogs where the article was posted.

Here is a breakdown of the different blogs and what they cover:

  • SeanColombo.com – the aggregate of all posts. This is my life as a whole, so it will have every article, and will have little icons indicating which blogs the article was posted to.
  • Motive Blog – productivity and the glory of man! Basically this blog will exhalt all the things that Motive Force LLC stands for, and pretty much ignore the rest.
  • iHateCSS.org – general griping about numerous, poorly implemented web-languages/standards and tips on how to survive them. Since it’s made partially as an emotional outlet for the frustrations of coders who have been portability-hacking their code for hours, the tone is fairly informal.
  • Codeaholics Code blog– programming / hacking / general caffeination.
  • Codeaholics News – where the code-blog is less-pinnacle code-related stuff, the News blog is just for announcements (eg: when coding projects get started/released, etc.).
Motive Blog

This blog will focus on productivity, creativity, and the glory of man; all the things that Motive Force LLC stands for!

We’ll highlight other products, services, and companies that are doing things right (or wrong) and keep you updated on what is happening at Motive Force.

Humanity is capable of so much, and we feel that people should strive to achieve this potential which is so far beyond what is commonly expected.

Take it!