// Internet Duct Tape

The Solution to Social Network Site Fatigue

Social Software and You

Social network site fatigue is when you’re sick and tired of trying to find your friends when everyone jumps ship to the Next Big Thing (Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, Twitter to Pownce, etc). The biggest problem with the web 2.0 revolution of “social network apps” is that there is no universal identifier. In real life, governments use social insurance numbers to tell the different between two people with the same name. If you look at the web as a big database, we’re missing a universal key that lets us know that engtech on Digg is also ninetimessix on StumbleUpon who is also Eric on Facebook and Internet Duct Tape on WordPress.com.This is an epidemic problem with all web services. Even in cases where there *IS* a universal common identifier there is no guarantee that every site will support it. Companies either lack the technical know-how, or they fear sending their customers to their competitors if they make it too easier to move data around.

The Universal Identifier for Movies

imdb logoEveryone can agree that IMDB is the #1 database for information about movies. They also provide an ID number for each movie and TV show. For example, Six Feet Under has an ID of 0248654 and you can access a lot of information on IMDB directly if you know that number corresponds to Six Feet Under the tv show. Rotten Tomatoes understands that IMDB is the #1 database for information about movies, and you can link to any movie on their site using only the IMDB number.


brings you to


Any web site about movies that doesn’t understand that the IMDB number is the universal identifier is shooting themselves in the foot because they are making it harder for users to mash their new site up with existing sites about movies. IE: If I had a blog about movies where I always linked to IMDB, I could trivially change those links to Rotten Tomatoes for all of my old posts because RT understands the IMDB number.

What is really surprising is that even though Amazon has owned IMDB since 1998, you cannot browse Amazon results using the IMDB number. Sure, there are nice hacks like the Movie Dude script for Firefox that will crosslink the movie sites for you… but it would be so much easier with universal IDs. The same would go for social network sites.

Facebook As a Universal ID?

facebook logoFacebook hype has been through the roof, with many pundits wondering if the closed garden of Facebook is going to become the official storehouse for online identity (at least for the next few years). Their ingenious apps platform lets other websites piggyback off of the Facebook social web, giving us a hint of social site nirvana: being able to maintain one set of friends on Facebook and use that same set on every other social site. But that is contingent to how well Facebook plays with other sites.

NetVibes has already shot the first volley against Facebook’s bow with their new application that exports Facebook data into NetVibes. It would be nice to see Facebook becoming a social network hub. ClaimID, the bright future of open identity, even has a Facebook application. My hope is that the ClaimID app will let me find the claimed identities of my online friends and act as a hub for my social network activities. One friendlists to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

claimid logo

But There Already Is a Universal Friendslist!

The silly thing about all this time we waste with friendslist management is that we already have a universal friendslist: our address book. Any social site worth it’s salt will let you batch import all of your existing friends by uploading a file or logging in to your web-based email account. Plaxo has been fighting to become the universal address book, it gives you the ability to automatically push out contact information updates to anyone who has you in their address book. They’ve even gone so far as to implement some killer developer tools like Javascript and REST widgets – I’ve seen a few startups add address book friendslist import to their web app in literally minutes by using the Plaxo tools.

plaxo logo

There are definitely some smart eggs at Plaxo, as they’ve been repositioning themselves with Pulse as an open social network where users can share contact information and their web presence easily.

universal synchronization

But who will win the battle of the social networks? Will it continue the same cycle of a new network being popular every two years? One thing is certain, as long as there isn’t an easy way to migrate data and contacts between these network, it will be the users who lose.

23 Responses

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  1. raincoaster said, on August 04, 2007 at 12:41 am

    Amen. I waited out Myspace for the longest time and then some ass made his page the central site for planning an event we were all working on, so I had to sign up. A one-button “port to Facebook” on LinkedIn would be damn handy, but of course each site wants to be the ONLY one. They want us to be monogamists, when we’re bonobos.

  2. brVince said, on August 04, 2007 at 4:29 pm

    I just joined/claimed “my ID” and seems not really working this time or because im still starting. but as u said, it’s like fatigue, under competitive motivation. though social networking is not my first aim on blogging, it seems that it would sustain my blogging if i join to this social networks. :) oh, i am confused sometimes…

  3. Ilya @ Neo Meme said, on August 04, 2007 at 9:52 pm

    Ah, the spectre of ubiquitous OpenID shows up once again. I’m already slightly terrified of how much Facebook knows about me- I consciously block that out because Facebook has become such an integral part of my life. I would rather my information remain closed with a big company that has a lot to lose from a privacy breach than open to anyone who wants it.

  4. nergalicious said, on August 05, 2007 at 1:02 am

    I’m not sure about this at all. I’ve only recently started blogging (March) and yet somehow I’ve had to sign up to Technorati to ‘claim’ my blog. It was mine anyway.

    I like the idea of OpenID, but every competitor wants to be ‘the one’ as stated in a previous reply, it’s just the nature of competition/capitalism. A world standard would be handy if it could be administered correctly.

  5. David Bradley said, on August 07, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I reckon a mashup between openID and a profile page complete with personal controllable data embedded in a single web page on one’s site might provide the answer, might call it “meta-ID” or something similar…anyone want to work with us to get VC money for this..?


  6. cooper said, on August 07, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    eh, I’ve lost my open id password several times. I’ve lost track of most things. Who has the time. There ought to be a law.

  7. Jim Johnson said, on August 08, 2007 at 10:45 am

    It almost sounds likes there needs to be an “industry standard” adopted by the as-yet-nonexistent “International Social Networking Association”…

    After all… most communications standards were established by national or international bodies in the pubic or private sector…

  8. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 1:49 pm


    This is a problem I’ve had again and again where I’ve spread myself too thin trying to maintain a presence on whatever the most popular social network du jour is.

    I think instead of worrying about “friendslists” it’s almost better to worry about having a good address book, since most sites will let you find your friends based on email address.

  9. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 1:57 pm

    @Ilya @ Neo Meme:

    One problem I’ve seen with openID is what if you lose your account on the openID server?

    WordPress.com gives me an openID server at my domain name, but if I switch domains or lose my domain name then there’s no guarantee that openID will exist anymore. I’ve already had lots of problems with not being able to access twitterfeed.com when wp.com has openID issues (which is every day)

    It’s like putting all your eggs in one basket.

  10. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 1:59 pm


    The problem with world standards is that they’re never administered correctly. Microsoft Passport was the first to try this years ago but it never took off. Google Accounts was another pseudo-attempt at a universal ID that didn’t take off.

    re: Technorati… that site is a huge waste of time and effort. They want to to claim your blog, link to technorati with tags, link to technorati with “add to favorites”. It’s one big scheme to get bloggers to keep linking to them…

  11. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    @David Bradley:

    Sadly, you probably could get VC money for that.

    Such a large number of competitors though. I think that Plaxo has a pretty good shot at making a “universal friendslist” based on their address book technology…

    Email addresses and the address book are the only real common denominator on all of these websites. Plaxo does a good job of address book management… that could be a real edge.

  12. engtech said, on August 09, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    @Jim Johnson:

    but like most international standards they always come years if not decades after when they’re really needed. Having worked with many technological standards, it’s usually like pulling teeth to get them implemented, with each competing company adding slight variations and text that can have multiple interpretations in order to force consumer lock-in.

  13. sciencebase said, on August 09, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    there are certainly issues in all this that need to be addressed and I doubt I’ve got the persuasive powers to get any VC to start up something to address them all…


  14. nergalicious said, on August 09, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Here’s an international standard we can all comply to with very little effort – Honesty.

    Sadly it will have to be so heavily encrypted and password protected that it will defeat it’s own objective and we will end up in exactly the situation we are in now.

    None of you have met me – I doubt we ever shall. Fine. What rules would you apply to me if you had? Apply them now…

    All I can stand on is reputation and integrity – it’s all I have.

    I hope to build enough of both with you so that you will see I’m sincere. None of us are stupid, we’ll soon smell a rat.

  15. nergalicious said, on August 09, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    I meant to add this but didn’t want to blog spam, though I just have. Sorry


  16. Jim Johnson said, on August 10, 2007 at 7:09 am

    We already have vCard standards… and hCard is becoming more widely known… Basically social networks just need to adapt similar standards… using Microformats to link vCards or hCards for their users. rel=”friend” or rel=”colleague” or rel=”family” or rel=”boss” etc. Then allow me to export my friends vCard data from SN1 and import them into SN2.

    Email programs need to have the same capability — building vCard/hCard data into their address books. Thus, I can upload my addressbook to a new social network (OPML or XML format) and then it looks for other members of the network that match my vCard/hCard contacts.

    Short and sweet. Probably being done because I am not a developer/programmer and I can find a solution.

  17. engtech said, on August 10, 2007 at 10:48 am


    Don’t worry, I never think an article slamming Technorati is blog spam. :)

  18. engtech said, on August 10, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    @Jim Johnson:

    I’ve seen that ClaimID is supporting XFN. Where I think things fall down is that social networks don’t want you to be able to export the email addresses of your friends for privacy reasons. Given that many social networks don’t require a confirmation of “friendship” — that is a valid concern. Otherwise you’d see spammers friending people just to build email address lists that they can in turn resell.

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