Critical Development

Language design, framework development, UI design, robotics and more.

Invention-A-Day: Social Networking Protocol and Super Client Shell

Posted by Dan Vanderboom on December 18, 2007

There has been an overwhelming explosion of social networking websites in the past several years.  Myspace, MS Live Spaces, Zaadz, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn, … the list goes on forever, it seems.  How many of these things do I need to create an account for, anyway?  Like I don’t already have a bunch of e-mail addresses to keep track of—now I need to check my social network sites for messages and connect to people I know (or those I’d like to meet).

I don’t know if this is an invention per se or if I’m just seeing the convergence of a trend, but with the huge amount of overlap in social networking services, I’m envisioning some kind of standardized protocol for publishing personal profiles, sharing group folders and web-page-zones, defining schemas and permissions for contacts and groups, etc.  Just as we’ve standardized on protocols for e-mail, web content management and syndication, file transfers, newsgroup article distribution, P2P content sharing, and other information technologies, I’d like to see a standard emerge for various aspects of what we call “social networking”.  I have many choices when it comes to Bittorrent client software, but each of those clients communicates on the same protocol over the same network, and so they’re interoperable.

This is the age of interoperability, is it not?  I’d like to define my profile once, and publish it to all of the social networking websites out there.  Better yet, give me a thick client with a beautiful cinematic experience WPF interface so that I can synchronize some of that data to use offline, sync it to my Windows Mobile phone, etc.  How many times do we really need to define a set of contacts?  In our thick client e-mail, our web mail, our company CRM, and each of our social networking sites?  How ubiquitous is the need now to share files with individuals or groups, for business or personal reasons?  All of these social technologies are now scattered and fragmented, with no coherent vision of pulling them all together, it seems.

What we need is a Super Client.  Imagine an extensible user interface shell like Outlook or Visual Studio, perhaps based on WPF Acropolis or a similar effort, into which modules can be plugged in.  Allow treeviews to be extended to include new nodes and context-menu options, etc., and all of this social technology plugged into together for deeper integration, shared but extensible schemas, and a common user experience.  Wherever I read and write e-mails, that’s where I want to read newsgroups and blogs, listen to podcasts, share photos, tasks, calendar appointments, contacts, Internet folders, and more.

In fact, why not make this an operating system service?  The ability to dock windows with/on/to each other, group them together, load and close them in persistent groups, and launch them from each other through simply-defined associations?

A unified Super Client user interface shell (or OS shell service) plus social protocol.  That’s my invention of the day.  Or my prediction.  Take your pick.

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