Yahoo! seems to have yet another social networking site in the works, after the failed 360° and the still in beta mash. Its name is Kickstart. This new network seems to position itself somewhere between LinkedIn and the original Facebook, trying to map student relationships and match them to employer requirements. I really fail to see why and how Yahoo! might ever think that segmenting their efforts to enter the social networking market has a higher probability of success than just developing a good, well-designed and well-engineered social networking site to compete face on with Facebook, Google’s OpenSocial or Myspace. I find their efforts completely irrelevant and — sadly — doomed to fail. With such a crowded market I can see why Google opted to create a platform rather than prop its largely mediocre, fizzled out Orkut network.
Yet everytime I log into Facebook and see notifications of my ‘friends’ finding their friends through the ‘Friend Finder’ I keep remembering how Facebook also volunteers to log into your email accounts, retrieve the names of the people you know and automatically search for them and send them an ‘invitation’ for you. And everytime I think of this I keep wondering. If Facebook can connect to another service with your account (and your permission), what’s stopping the creation of a MetaSocial Network. A network to which you provide the login details for all of the major social networks out there for which you already have accounts, it automatically logs in and accesses your profile information, including your friend list and incorporates everything in a single, beautiful environment. Moreover, what’s stopping anyone from replicating the Facebook API and offering the same services on their own network, after retrieving the details from your account using the login and password you provided during the ‘migration’ step of a registration wizard? A Facebook API clone.
Except for your own User Content, you may not upload or republish Site Content on any Internet, Intranet or Extranet site or incorporate the information in any other database or compilation, and any other use of the Site Content is strictly prohibited
Yahoo! provides similar restrictions to what you can do with their Kickstart service of course, but clearly states that:
Yahoo! does not claim ownership of Content you submit or make available for inclusion on the Service. However, with respect to Content you submit or make available for inclusion on publicly accessible areas of the Service, you grant Yahoo! the following worldwide, royalty-free and non-exclusive license(s), as applicable:
The same terms and content ownership permissions exist in other social network licences as well, which in turn begs the question: Webmail providers typically mention that you have to keep your password secure, that you should not disclose it to third parties and that they retain the rights to their service (e.g. layout, etc.), but not your emails, the same stuff more or less that Facebook et al. keep mentioning in their terms. If Facebook can access my GMail, Yahoo! Mail or Hotmail and get my address book info with legal impunity, why can’t social network X access my Facebook account with my permission, automatically get my profile info and friends list (that I own) and complete my profile on that network in no time. Moreover, why can’t it — at the same time — access my profile in Myspace, Orkut etc. and import everything from my profiles there too. The MetaSocial. Or, in other words, getting rid of the social networking vendor lock in the easy way.
In this case, the hard — and proper — way of doing this whole ‘social’ thing would be using a distributed, open, protocol-based discovery of personal information on the road towards a Semantic Web, as opposed to closed, vendor specific platforms enclosed within a specific web-site or under an API controlled by a single or a few commercial entities. I guess Google’s OpenSocial is a potentially interesting path towards openness, although I am still sceptical with regards to its technical prowess, its true degree of ‘openness’ as well as its possible acceptance in the long term; after all the API is just one part of a much larger equation.