Battling Social Network Fatigue … By Going Open

Back in February, plenty of us started to think about and discuss social network fatigue: the idea that people are getting tired of joining new services and having to reconnect with everyone they already know. Some have argued that this isn’t a real problem outside of the Valley or that people are happy starting over as they move across networks. Social network fatigue is not, however, a made-up problem. If anything has changed, it is that we’re now all much more tired of new social networks and the political battles to be “open” then we ever were earlier this year.

Before going to Paris for LeWeb, Blaine Cook (Twitter) and I stopped in Amsterdam to attend an event on federating social networks put on by Mediamatic Labs. Mediamatic is a partly government-funded startup in the Netherlands that builds social networking sites, mainly for non-profits with many focusing on the art community. Mediamatic has found that many of its clients and users have shared interests, causing the walls between social networks to become blurred. During the day, roughly 25 European developers and designers came together to look at how we can work together to help solve these issues. While the event was only a day long (and jetlag was certainly setting in by the end of it) one of the key takeaways for me was that we must be on the right track as the conversations follow the same direction in Amsterdam as they do in San Francisco. Mediamatic Labs will be hosting another event in February (see the company’s blog) and in March there will be a WebCamp on social network portability in Cork.

During Web 2.0 Expo Berlin last month, I was introduced to two smaller projects, NoseRub and, both of which originated in Germany. NoseRub (an open source project) and are both social aggregators much like Facebook’s News Feed. The key difference is that unlike Facebook, which only sucks content in, they’re both built on open standards that let people republish their activities and content around the Web. A few weeks ago, Google and BBC Backstage hosted a BarCamp in London where a major theme was using open technologies to enable distributed social networks. Last week TechCrunch wrote about Spokeo, another social aggregator, created by Stanford students; social network portability was a hot topic at LeWeb3. And don’t forget Plaxo Pulse, FriendFeed, socialthing!, and dozens of smaller efforts to integrate your various social services like the profiles on Threadless (past Radar coverage) or MetaFilter. This conversation is being fueled by energy from entrepreneurs and developers all around the world.

2007 was a year of solidifying open technologies like OpenID, OAuth, Microformats, XMPP, and others. The challenge now for 2008 is working together to build upon these technologies to create true data portability — while keeping people in charge. Social networks may be different around the world, but the one common theme of all these conversations is that we’re all getting sick of them!