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How Can Open Source Software Open Up Facebook?

A technical overview of some ideas for an open source infrastructure for social networking.

As Microsoft's recent $240M investment in Facebook gives FB all the capital it needs to further its grand ambitions, some are concerned that one corporation should control so much information about the detailed personal activities and connections among individuals. Even before OpenSocial launched today, one individual - Jeff Reifman (pictured) - had decided to outline an open source software architecture to address these concerns. He has published a technical overview of his ideas for an open source infrastructure for social networking, calling it 'Breaking Open Facebook with Open Source Software.'

With the kind permission of the author, Web 2.0 Journal brings you excerpts here...


Breaking Open Facebook with Open Source Software, Part 1

Since last December, Facebook has grown from 12 to 47 million users. Since May, third party developers have launched more than 6,000 Facebook applications. In Canada, Facebook’s market penetration is so broad that many of my friends there use Facebook as a primary email service. It’s even inspired a song. In fairness, Facebook performs a unique social benefit by linking communities with the use of activity feeds, status updates and traditional social networking features. It’s earned its success by providing a simple, innovative and utilitarian service for managing lightweight communications amongst friends.

While the ubiquity of Google search and the growing success of its Gmail service is remarkable, there are many other search engines and email services for consumers to choose to use. While Amazon and eBay may dominate in their respective markets, they must work continuously to keep customers satisfied because the switching cost for consumers is very low. I can easily sell my stuff on CraigsList or buy from a variety of online or offline outlets. On the other hand, moving your profile and network of friends on Facebook is nearly impossible. Even if Facebook allowed you to export your profile, there is no way to maintain the activity streams with your friends.

Communities (online and offline) tend to conform to the activities that are routinely permitted or legal. There was a day when activists didn’t seek out permits for a protest or tolerate being placed in fenced protest zones far away from the appearance of public officials. The entire Federal regulatory system has evolved to corral activists within a constrained framework that limits their creativity and manages their effectiveness down. Similarly, Facebook decides what features and capabilities are allowed and disallowed. Facebook tightly limits the information that can be used by third party developers and the way in which applications can allow communication between users

Read the rest of Jeff's essay, "Breaking Open Facebook with Open Source Software." 

Breaking Open Facebook with Open Source Software, Part 2

The architecture below provides a high level overview, not a detailed requirements specification. I invite your comments and feedback, especially in areas where I may have missed existing open source infrastructure that may be useful.

My proposed open source social networking architecture includes a core module and several optional components.

The core module provides the basic services necessary to enable a hosted, distributed social network community. The core module is to be installed widely by open source advocates and anyone who wishes to host their own profile privately or start their own online community.

The core module provides services that link these new open source networks together and offer consumers the ability to choose one service to host their profile, while still interacting and connecting with friends on other services. Whereas today, consumers are locked in to using proprietary social networks where most of their friends gather, this architecture would allow consumers to choose their own profile service while still interacting with friends on other services.

Click to view enlarged diagram

Read the rest of Jeff's architectural overview
.

More Stories By Jeff Reifman

Jeff Reifman is the founder of NewsCloud (www.newscloud.com), an open source community media platform. As a former Microsoft Group Program manager, he helped launch MSNBC.com and then left to pursue freelance writing and non-profit technology ventures.

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