Social Networking Data Standard Proposal: SOCML
The Need for a Federated Social Network Data Standard
Back in March of 2012, the EFF published an article advocating the need for an open federated social network. A federated social network is essentially a mechanism for transmitting social media content without being exclusively locked into one service provider, such as Facebook, Google+, and Twitter. A prime example of a common federated system would be email. In the case of email, the user is absolutely free to choose whichever service to host their account, whether it be Gmail, Apple, Yahoo, Microsoft, or if necessary even their own email service. As it relates to email, this service agnosticism enables the user to exert more control over where their data will be stored without being restricted to one service.
Recently, a number of well-known social media sites have started to collect personal information beyond what a reasonable person would expect from a service provider. Facebook's Graph Search, in some peoples opinion, offers a sobering example of how personal search data and web viewing history might be violated. Google has also been known to keep search history tied to Google+ accounts. While there are privacy settings that can be enabled, the fact that so much information is in the hands of large service providers does not provide much comfort to end users that their personal data will not be abused in the future. In addition, with cookies and other methods used for tracking it is entirely possible for these service providers to triangulate your web browsing and search behaviors.
Outside of the obvious privacy concerns, there are the more practical concerns that by giving a handful of social media providers monopolistic access to personal data that we are not engendering an atmosphere of competition, which ultimately benefits the consumer and society as a whole. As these social media services become more embedded in our everyday lives, it becomes harder for people to opt out. For instance, a number of services, such as Spotify require (or at least suggest) that the user use their Facebook account to log into and utilize their service.
A number of "federated social networks" or "distributed social networks" have attempted to address these issues, but none seem to be gaining any considerable ground. Diaspora was one of the most published early attempts to create a decentralized social network. The problem with Diaspora, along with the other analogs, is that they focused more on the service and not the data standard for decentralized communication.
It is fairly evident, that creating an alternative to existing social networks will be no easy task, especially when it comes to gaining users. The "walled gardens" created by large social networks like Facebook and Google make it nearly impossible for social data to be extracted. In fact, one can consider the current state of social networks as "black holes" when it comes to data.
The solution I propose is simple: standardize social media content such that independent developers can create their own services that can share and aggregate data under a common standard. This standard, should be open and free, not encumbered by patents, and be easy to implement while offering these features:
- Complete end-to-end privacy control, with the use of asymmetric encryption.
- A method for authenticating that people "are who they say they are."
- True protocol agnosticism, this data standard should be freely interchangeable with the number of web technologies that exist.
- Content portability, meaning the user can choose to use a number of providers to store pictures, comments, events, messages, etc. while still having their information available to those with the proper access.
The SOCML Standard attempts to satisfy these requirements by creating an open data standard built off of existing technology.