[oops, I've not got any handling in for ? on the end of titles in my blog engine...sorry if this post appears twice]
As usual, after the Federated Social Web meet in Berlin I'd planned to write comprehensive blog posts about it. As usual I didn't get far before getting distracted. So far I've done a bit of overview of the conf, a brief note on privacy issues and a fairly random think-piece on decentralized vs. distributed networks. But I haven't actually covered what were probably the two main take-aways from the conf - Federated Social Web stuff itself and the role of WebID. In lieu of something better I'll drop a few key links in now. In both cases things have moved along very quickly in the past few weeks with Google+ and BrowserID, more on those in a mo.
One big meme was that of the Facebook-killer - basically we need something that has all the user-friendliness of Facebook but not as a walled garden (and with a better story on privacy etc). Step forward Diaspora - you can use it as a service a la Facebook (with which it shares many features), but also set up your own install. There were also a handful of other apps with a similar style. It took me about a 1/2 hour to set up my own install of Status.Net, essentially an open version of Twitter. though I have yet to start using it and probably more significantly yet to connect it up to the other services I use.
Another pointer I must include is to the W3C Federated Social Web Incubator Group. As the charter describes, its scope is pretty wide, including the various emergent protocols and technologies in this space. One of the initial targets is to move forward the Social Web Acid Test - Level 0 (SWAT0) - an integration use case for the federated social web. On the Wiki there are potential use-cases or user-stories that could become part of SWAT1. They're both fairly short so I'll paste SWAT0 and the list of non-W3C technologies from the charter below. The incubator group is encouraging people to join, so if you're interested in this material please sign up.
To quote from the WebID site, "With WebID, logging into a website is as simple as selecting a WebID and clicking 'log in'". It's a very nifty bit of tech, secure, relatively straightforward to implement, much simpler than most of the alternatives. In essence it's about passing a URI in with a PKI certificate. When Henry presented this at the conf, the audience response was interesting. Although it isn't rocket science, the certificate stuff used isn't very intuitive (personally I have a blind spot on all things auth), so not everybody got it. Of those that did get it, very few could believe what it provided. A question from the audience was telling : "What can be easier than using username + password to log in?". Henry : "One click.".
Although not critical to the functioning of WebID, one of the coolest aspects is that it cleanly supports FOAF (and other) profile discovery, the service can learn more about the user to improve their experience. In other words it's entirely compatible with the Semantic/Linked/Data Web.
WebID was initially known as FOAF+SSL, on the Wiki oh, also here, there are lists of implementations etc. Watch the video and read the notes from Berlin for more.
There's also a W3C WebID Incubator Group.
Videos of presentations of the FSW meet in Berlin are online, along with most of the papers.
Before going any further, I should remind you that we already have a Federated Social Web, the blogosphere. However this is weak on many aspects - the social graph is fairly inaccessible, often poor UIs - in particular feed aggregators are clunky things, immediacy is seriously lacking, identity management and the personal profiles that there are messy, privacy, auth and access control systems are virtually non-existent. Of course all that has left a convenient niche for Twitter, Facebook, and now Google+.
I largely agree with Edd in his (must-read blog post) Google+ is the social backbone. As a competitor to Facebook it does open up the social aspects as a commodity, and it's considerably more open and linkable, i.e. Webby (here's my stuff). I do worry about Google becoming all-powerful in this space, but as they say this too shall pass. I personally believe the nature of the Web is such that any attempts to monopolise or centralize systems will inevitably fail - because decentralized/distributed systems have inherent evolutionary advantages, though they may take time to take effect. So I reckon Google+ should be viewed by Web technologists not as an end in itself, rather as a bootstrap to a more social Web.
Although Google+ doesn't have any Semantic Web features per se, it does a reasonable job of giving people URIs and linking them together. But rather than a niche, there's a gaping void for describing things in general in a machine-friendly form. Whether RDF-oriented linked data activity will expand to fill this void or some Googlesque reinvention (cf. microdata overlords) of RDF remains to be seen, but either way this also seems inevitable (see also Smarter (Hash)Tags and Google+). I'm not sure we're seeing it yet, but with a bit of luck, once the commercial world sees the SEO etc advantages, GoodRelations should cause a large expansion of semwebbiness.
BrowserID is a recent development from Mozilla. It's close to WebID in that it's in the identity space and about secure signing in, but arguably the primary goal is somewhat different. Broadly speaking, it boils down to the payload of WebID being a URL and the payload of BrowserID being an email address. Discussion is ongoing about the (/any) relationship between the two protocols. All other considerations aside, I'd suggest that WebID is more versatile in that there's a lot more you can do with a URL than an email address and because BrowserID is easier to integrate with existing email-based auth, there's better impedance matching with existing systems. I've tried to argue that BrowserID should allow the user to associate a (non-secret) URL with their email address to allow profile discovery etc. But consensus seems to be that keep-it-simple now trumps easier stuff later (WebFinger has been suggested as the route to discovery, I'm not altogether convinced as it's quasi-centralized, requiring a service to assert the email/URL mapping). Whatever happens on this particular point, BrowserID is certainly an interesting and useful development.
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SWAT0 Use Case
- With his phone, Dave takes a photo of Tantek and uploads it using a service
- Dave tags the photo with Tantek
- Tantek gets a notification on another service that he's been tagged in a photo
- Evan, who is subscribed to Dave, sees the photo on yet another service
- Evan comments on the photo
- David and Tantek receive notifications that Evan has commented on the photo
- ActivityStreams is an evolving format for syndicating social activities around the web.
- OpenID Foundation
- The OpenID Foundation is the group responsible for OpenID-related standardization. Although work like OpenID Connect is a moving target, the test-cases and specification should be compatible with OpenID.
- OStatus is an architecture combining Pubsubhubbub, WebFinger, ActivityStreams, and PortableContacts.
- Portable Contacts
- The goal of Portable Contacts is to make it easier for developers to give their users a secure way to access the address books and friends lists they have built up all over the web.
- Pubsubhubbub (PUSH) is a server-to-server publish/subscribe protocol as an extension to Atom and RSS. Servers compliant with PubSubHubbub can get near-instant notifications when a feed they're interested in is updated.
- Salmon Protocol
- As updates and content flow in real time around the Web, conversations around the content are becoming increasingly fragmented into individual silos. Salmon aims to define a standard protocol for comments and annotations to swim upstream to original update sources -- and spawn more commentary in a virtuous cycle.
- SMOB (Semantic MicroBlogging) is a framework that enables an open, distributed and semantic microblogging experience based on Semantic Web and Linked Data technologies.
- WebFinger is about making email addresses more valuable, by letting people attach public metadata to them.