I don’t know when we will understand this, but the social web is not about checking into places, or posting photos and tagging people. It is not about us sharing our information via our blog, or doing micro updates on twitter. It really doesn’t matter if I use Flickr or Instagram, or Google+ or Facebook. What is more important is the actual interaction we have on a day-to-day basis, be it in the real world or the virtual.
Life is just a collection of experiences that we create, or share with people around us. Different people use different “social” services to serve their purpose towards this end. And to tell the truth, we actually need different services at different times. However that leads to a lot of fragmentation of our personal data. Right now a large chunk of my thoughts are scattered around on Facebook and twitter updates. Similarly Picasa has all the photos that I take from my Android phone, while there are more that are posted by my friends on Facebook and Flickr. This makes it a mess to actually see what content do I really create, get linked to or ingest. And the problem doesn’t just stop there. It is a pain for me to even put the various blocks together. There is no real bridge between these disconnected services. This hurdle is also felt when developing any application that consumes this data (don’t even get me started on actually creating this data). How many websites have you visited recently which didn’t ask you to sign in on at least two of these social services?
This also makes development a challenge. Recently when I was trying to write a simple service to analyze my geo presence based on data online, I found that I had to write code to query at least 4 services to get an accurate answer. Shouldn’t we be making this easier? On thursday I was down at Singly office in the mission for a small Create-a-thon. The plan was to hack till midnight, and welcome 11/11/11. I thought why not? I had read a little about them online and the Locker Project and I thought they were on the right track. Singly provides a unified APIs to query our personal data.
Starting off around half past seven, it didn’t take long before Simon and other folks at Singly had my account setup. They had a general theme of building a photo viewer, which could take photos from all your services (4Sq, Instagram, FB, and so on). However I was more interested in how I could use this data towards my personal project of analyzing my location, based on my online interactions. Despite them still being in an early phase of the places API, it didn’t take me long to see all the checkins from me and my friends, and actually start analyzing them for patterns. Before we hit midnight I was able to pull up a small application which could figure out the places I have been to recently, and an overlap between me and my friends. This was pretty cool, because this actually collated data across 4Sq and Facebook (I wish they had Google Places) and was pretty simple. Despite all the rough edges this actually made sense. Given all the development happening out there, why is there no single way of getting my personal information?
I also played around with their existing photo viewers, contacts and links interactions. I was actually surprised on how accurately they recovered all the links I saw through the day. Although I must say that was a lot of data but nevertheless it really was deduplicated and ready for me to crunch on. I didn’t have to worry about linking 10 different accounts (although I did have to do it once at Singly) in every app I write. While talking to folks @ Singly I realized that there were a lot of challenges in this data unification. I really appreciate the effort they were making, but I wish that a large part of this focus came from these big social networks to allow me to unify the access (and perhaps creation) of my personal data. I know it’s almost impossible to wish for open standards in this, but that would definitely make my life easier as a developer, and also allow people to focus on innovation and not data aggregation.