Where Africa and Technology Collide!

Standardizing Your Profile Across Social Websites

A couple top web tech guys from South Africa (Neville, Stii, Charl) have banded together to create what they call a “Simple Distributed Social Network”, or SDSN. Their concept is simple, create a standardized way for people to own their own profiles, so they’re not tied into (and recreated) on every social website (like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter, MySpace, etc…).

(Read this post by Charl as it gives the best overview of the SDSN project)

Managing your profile across social networking sites and the web - SDSN

The issues that they’re dealing with effect everyone, here’s why. You’ve already created your Facebook/MySpace account, and you just got an invite from a friend for Flickr. Now you have to go recreate your whole profile again just for that service and neither of them share it. It only gets worse the more social websites you start becoming a part of, including your blog, or that niche social website around your favorite hobby.

For instance, everyone knows that WhiteAfrican.com is me, Erik Hersman. Why not use that as an identifier? Just as someone like Scoble could use http://www.twitter.com/scobleizer or his own blog’s URL as the center of his online universe. A URL with enough presence is naturally associated with a person.

If you think about it, the way we’re handling profiles online is a little crazy. Having my profile duplicated multiple locations, for each site, is neither efficient or a good long-term solution. To be honest, a couple other services are trying to tackle some of these same issues (OpenID, Microformats, Google’s OpenSocial, etc…). SDSN compliments these services, from what I can tell, and simplifies it for anyone who has their own website.

As good of an idea as SDSN is, it’s an uphill battle. The big websites have just started to adopt OpenID, after years of pressure, so the guys behind SDSN will need some influential benefactors in order to start pressuring the large sites to use this new simplified standard.

What does this mean for you, the “normal” web user? No much yet, since it’s still in development. However, I’d expect to see more first-moving tech guys playing with it, as well as seeing them create a way for people who don’t have their own websites to take part. Maybe a profile server of some sort.

Regardless of where this project ends up, I’m happy to see this kind of thought leadership coming out of Africa. One thing we do know, this issue will only rise in importance as more and more people start using more than one social website.

Further Reading
Charl has been the best communicator of what the SDSN project is. Here are his posts in chronological order:

[UPDATE: An analogy of sorts…
A simple analogy to show how upside-down this whole profile management scenario is would be to compare it to how you manage your profile offline. You use a centralized profile offline, typically your ID or driver’s license. What if you had to duplicate that each time you went to the airport, bought a gift using a credit card, or any other time you would need to show your ID. It simply wouldn’t make sense.]


  1. I think this is a great idea as one option. However, I do not want my profile standardized across sites because not everyone knows that Congogirl is ___, for example. I do like to use Congogirl as a handle on several sites, but on others, I use a different handle and on some I use my name. However, for those for which I would like to input the same information, a tool such as this would be invaluable.

  2. @Congogirl – I think it’s safe to say that you wouldn’t bother using this type of service when you want to maintain anonymity. So, it’s useful for when you want to control your actual profile, but not anonymous pseudonyms. That’s my take anyway.

  3. Standardizing profiles across the social networking scene is just the tip of the iceberg. This is really just about standardizing one’s identity across the web – watch this primer on identifying yourself across the interwebs.

  4. Oh yeah, reminds me of the sxip idea.

    I’d be happy if we could have some open standard in use @ e.g. synchronising contact data via plaxo IF these guys will eventually go for SyncML.

  5. @Jke – now, plaxo with SyncML would just be perfect. Problem is they sell their plaxo mobile sw, so they would have to forego the $ from that. Try funambol btw, haven’t gotten it to work on my Q yet though.

  6. The idea is great, and has been around, but the implementation is little tricky. Great post.

  7. Yet another idea I never would have discovered had I not popped in for a visit. I think that will end up being my signature comment. That and thanks. This will be great especially for people who want to market themselves or their websites across the entire web 2.0 world.

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