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…).
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.
Charl has been the best communicator of what the SDSN project is. Here are his posts in chronological order:
- Simple Distributed Social Network
- SDSN: Authentication
- **Import. Export. Share. Integrate. Transparently.**
[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.]