A social networking operating system
Last week I was asked (at very short notice) to come up with a presentation on what a social networking operating system would be. This is in part why I felt it was necessary to spend time on social network modalities. In the end the presentation wasn’t formalised (or constrained) by being put into a document, so this blog post is the first written record (assuming that my white board scribblings were consigned to the bin shortly after the workshop ended).
The thesis is fairly simple. Over time we’ve seen operating systems develop to provide sets of basic functions and services so that applications don’t have to do this themselves. This achieves a number of key things:
- Applications can be simpler, because the operating system does the ‘heavy lifting’ for them.
- Applications can work together, because there are common interfaces provided by the operating system.
This makes me think that we’re still in some sort of pre-history with social networking applications, as since they aren’t built on a common operating system they necessarily have to provide their own essential functions and services, and these typically don’t work well together.
So what does a social networking operating system let me do? I think it’s like this – it will let you join together functional aspects from social networking applications, and do this in the context of the user. An example might be the feedback mechanism for directed social bookmarking. Lets suppose that the user wishes to provide feedback via microblog @name posts. Without a social network OS that user is forced to switch contexts from their RSS aggregator (where the social bookmark is consumed) to their microblogging application (where they can make the feedback post). Not only do they need to switch applications, but they might also have to deal with context mismatches between namespaces etc. With a social networking OS the user would be able to press a button to make that response in context – the reply by microblog post (or whatever else they wanted to do) would become a feature of the RSS aggregator.
More broadly a social networking OS allows a user to consume social web applications (in the context of their choice) and connect to other social web applications in the modality of their choice (and without having to change context).
- Paradigm – distributed machines
- OS – Unix
- Language – C
- Protocol – TCP/IP
- Paradigm – application server
- OS – J2EE
- Language – Java
- Protocol – HTTP
- Social web
- Paradigm – social network
- OS – something in the browser?
- Protocol – stuff based on HTTP, but not really HTTP itself (could be replaced by AMQP?)
I suspect that the example I illustrate above could be pulled off with some ninja GreaseMonkey scripting, but that doesn’t mean that I see GreaseMonkey as the heart of a social networking OS.
It would be remiss of me to close without a hat tip to OpenSocial, which seems to have been an effort to create something like a social networking OS. I remain curious about what’s become of it? I’d also love to hear from any OpenSocial guru who can explain how it might be used to achieve the use case outlined above?
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