FOAF & Social Networking

I’ve been doing a lot of reading on FOAF (Friend Of A Friend). This XML based idea focuses on the concept of using XML and XHTML tags to create a circle of friends using links on a personal blog. For example, if I link to my friend Derek and I place a “rel=friend met” in the HTML <A HREF> tag, it would link me to Derek as a “friend” and someone I have “met” and if he was to do the same to me, it would connect us via those links. It is a really interesting concept and Google’s new Social Graph API is based largely on this idea.

This works great for connecting yourself to others you know and communicate with via the internet. If you have a lot of friends that you connect to via your web blog, there is almost no better way to connect everyone than by using FOAF. However, this only focuses on the who and how of your social network. What about the problem of where you are social?

Where are You Social?

We should face it, there are a ton of social networks out there. In fact the whole Web 2.0 concept is based largely around the concept of social networks. We have places to store bookmarks, network with friends and colleagues, there are even networks that allow you to share your photos with both your friends and the world at large. There are social networks built around reading, sending 140 character messages, and news articles. Point is, there is a lot of social websites out there and you probably have accounts on several of them (I know I do).

Why do I bring this up? Well this weekend, I signed up for a couple sites that had social aspects of them. Four out of five of the websites asked for either my profile addresses on other social networks, or it asked for RSS feeds of my updates on those social networks. That means I had to input the same data for 4 different websites. I don’t know about you but by the third site, I was thinking there has to be a better way.

Your Social OPML

If you have done any RSS reading, you have probably heard of an OPML file. This is a file that contains a list of the RSS feeds you subscribe to, the names of those feeds, and the actual feed addresses associated with the feeds. And as I mentioned above there is the FOAF format for social graphing on the internet. So why can we not combine these two technologies into a new technology (or more of an extension that utilizes aspects of both).

I am not really into creating new standards for the sake of creating a new standard. Especially when an existing standard or a combination of existing standards will already do the job. So why not a FOAF OPML for your profiles on all the social networks?

Imagine having a link on your website that you could point users to, or even type in to websites that you are signing up for. The file that link points at would have the following information

  • The name of the social network
  • Your user name on that social network
  • The URL for your profile on that social network
  • And finally, the RSS feed address (or a group of them if applicable)

So for example my Flickr entry might look like:

mkoby's Latest Photos mkoby's Flickr geoFeed

I realize that the above snippit is probably not considered “well formed” but hopefully you see where I’m going with this concept. You might also notice that RSS entries can be arrays of RSS addresses. Now imagine an entry for each social site you are a member of (Facebook, GoodReads, Twitter, and so on). Imagine never having to type that information into another website, just upload this file to the site and they can parse it for you.

Does this Already Exist?

Now I guess the question I should ask is, does this already exist somewhere? If it does, I haven’t heard of it. I know some stuff like the FOAF is similar but not quite this. Maybe a new standard would need to be created for something like this. I am not real sure. This does have a lot of practical use though. Think of it in terms of the more popular bloggers like Robert Scoble (Scobleizer), who have a tremendous internet following. There is an entire website dedicated to Scoble’s RSS presence on the net already, something like this would make it easy for anyone to follow everything Mr. Scoble is doing online (ie, it would make stalking easier).

I think that this idea has merit but I have no idea how to get it off the ground. And maybe this already exists somewhere in some form I do not know about. Any thoughts?

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