The doll house pleasures of modeling one’s own social network were just enough to get me to set one up back when friendster was catching on. After that, I simply can’t be asked to set up the same doll house again with 18 different social network providers.
But now there is a new motivation to do it at least one more time. Tribe just became the first commercial social networking provider to implement the FOAFnet specification. This minimal specification is designed to allow portability of that carefully-crafted social network information we have been repeatedly feeding into each service.
How does the portability work? Supporting FOAFnet boils down to a social network service allowing the import and export of your relationships with other users as FOAF files. You can take your FOAF file to or from any other FOAFnet enabled service. By extracting your relationship information from a proprietary system, FOAF empowers users to manage their own social relationships.
Its still a bit of a chicken and egg problem, but at least now there is one chicken. You can try it in tribe. Build up a little network, then click on the export FOAF button near your picture. The XML shown is your FOAF file for tribe, which you can save with your browser. Marc Canter gives a good example with his own FOAF file.
What’s the difference between FOAF and FOAFnet? FOAF in its full form is bulky, still evolving, and has not yet been been adopted commercially. FOAFnet however, is a consortium of software vendors that culled out a subset of the much larger FOAF specification. That smaller frozen specification facilitates the immediate commercial uptake of social network portability. Fiona Romeo’s social network ideal is now much closer to reality.