Andreas – Joakal

September 27, 2011

The social network killer? Like email

Filed under: Idea — Tags: — Andreas Markauskas @ 6:04 am

The big social networks have a lot of momentum, but there's almost no barriers to entry that the whole proprietary perceptions of it is silly. It'll fade out to smaller, easier and many networks eventually. There'll be shifts in perceptions as people will no longer ask for their friend's Facebook (or MySpace), in fact, it'll be easier as there's a more solid address like joakal@example.com. Esocial or social address may take over to be social network neutral word.

How to implement it

Before we go into alternatives, we need to define the core parts of social networks. The list in order of popularity according to my assumptions and one source:

  1. Posts - Whenever a person makes a post, all the friends can read it. Also known as status updates.
  2. Like - Akin to supporting, tweet, share or upvote, to indicate affirmation of something to friends.
  3. Media - Pictures, videos. They are uploaded by the users.
  4. Instant Messaging - Greetings, exchange pleasantries.
  5. Events - Birthday party, meeting, etc.
  6. Apps - Games, quiz, etc.
  7. Contacts - Friends, relationships, buddies, etc. Doesn't happen often but important nonetheless.
  8. Private Messages - Like email. Won't be explaining this.

Posts

Social networks send an email to users of the message but they have to simply log in to reply.

Alternative

  • Universal post - it's sent out to all contacts automatically, like email.
  • No log in - users who get the message aren't required to log in. In fact, they can respond back immediately.

In a way, when a user creates a status update on the website, the website automatically sends it out to all the relevant contacts.

For example: Joakal@example.com: "All those social networks actually send emails to their users that they have a message waiting for them to read. Can't I just read it without the hassle of logging in?"

Like

Lets say, I saw Sunshine Trailer. I share by clicking one of the many social icons (as many as 329!). It's simple to share. In fact, as recently, it was made seamless by 'frictionless sharing' where just seeing a website page is enough for the website master to access your profile, post content, etc.

Although a bit alarming to some people, I heard that users have to enable it first because the company respects the users enough and resorted to allowing the early technology crowd investigate and promote the feature. Pretty cool!

Alternative

Similar to the mailto: feature; socialto:example@example.com. Once pressed, the browser notifies the social network that seamlessly creates a post to all the contacts, much like sharing it. This requires extending browsers or creating a plugin to support a list of contacts including the main account. This is pretty difficult change since it requires maintaining plugins on as many browsers possible.

It can be further extended to support frictionless sharing by automatically posting content of interest to friends.

Otherwise, it can be re-posted.

For example, I go watch the Sunshine Trailer by the time I finish, every single one of my contacts know about it while I watched it!

Media

It's a pretty mixed bag actually. Although users upload pictures and videos of their own, even tag them, they usually post external links instead.

Alternative

All such personal media is stored on the website the user is associated with. It's even possible to tag all the media. After the user uploads and is ready, the media links are sent out as posts to the contacts. In fact, any user can go to it.

For privacy, the user can mark such content as private, thus requiring users of other social networks to either input a password or for less hassle, get session verified (between social networks).

For example, "Joakal@example.com posted a video about a Korean horror movie. Click here and it'll take you to example.com/video/9431515"

Instant Messaging

Typically inside the browser, it's basic and some users have problems. It's pretty early technology but improving.

Alternative

There's already many Instant Messengers, in fact, instant messaging is older than social networks. But there's a difference, they are not website-based but application-based.

Although there's many rapidly emerging 'website IMs', I don't know of one that can integrate with the social network website via session authentication.

It would work like this: I (Joakal@example.com) sees an online list of contacts. I send a "Hi" to Sarah@moon.com. We begin chatting on our own social networks.

What happens behind is that Joakal logs on, the online IM status is sent to other social networks and re-sends it every so often unless Joakal logs out or JS is disabled. Joakal sees a list of online contacts because the other social networks were sending status updates already. So Joakal saying "Hi" to Sarah, actually sends it to the other website to which Sarah gets notified. Otherwise it disappears into IM history list.

It would be pretty neat if Jabber or some protocol can be extended to allow more cross-platform instant messaging.

For example:

Joakal@example.com: "All those unaware social users are trapped."

Mark@social.com: "I know right, you can't even talk to your friends from other websites."

Mark@social.com: ""Sorry, for privacy reasons, we can not reveal your friends contact addresses." On the side there's a way to invite friends by putting in your email address and password!"

Mark@social.com: "Selfish company motives for user privacy."

Events

There's almost no standard for events. For users not involved with the social network, they are still invited but can't respond at all which is pretty standard.

Alternative

Comply with iCalendar format standard. Allowing it to be easily shared to other calendars.

Creating an event would be pretty similar notifying users, but also acts much like making a post. People can immediately respond RSVP, etc from their account.

For example:

Patrick@sydney.com/cal/49431095

When: 21th of December, 5 PM (1000+)

Where: Christmas Party @ Patrick's sea house

RSVP'd

Patrick@car.com - creator

Joakal@example.com

Michelle@pirate.com

Maybe

Mark@green.com

Declined

John@example.com

Sarah@moon.com

Patrick@sydney.com on 16th Dec 2011, 12:40PM (1000+): Hey guys, don't bring any glass booze cuz they break.

Joakal@example.com on 16th Dec 2011, 2:03PM (1000+): I'm there!

Mark@green.com on 17 Dec 2011, 10:29AM (1000+): Sorry guys, I'll be at nz. have a good one. xmass!

App

Unfortunately, I don't have any strong ideas for integration because many social networks are likely to have their own idea of what's accessible, different applications, etc.

Contacts

A very important part of social networks. Some people have suffered under the friend spam. But otherwise, the process is pretty easy as some social networks have claimed to have Proprietary(tm) methods of suggesting friends.

However, almost all of them will not give you a list of contacts. Some tout privacy reasons and most don't think it requires a feature. Cynical commentators say it's an attempt to frustrate users leaving the social network website.

Alternative

The alternatives would be similar to the current social networks pretty much except that social networks will have an unique shared ID between between each other. So by removing a friend, it can alert the other social network. For those concerned about offending the other person but want to hide all association between each other, contacts can be hidden instead.

Secret handshake, or some kind of secret code. It's usually enough to say "Joakal@example.com my handshake is watermelon" to cut down on many requests or even separate them. The handshake can be changed later but approved relationships will have a much longer shared ID between social networks. This should cut down any shock of 'friend spam' on the magnitude of 'email spam'.

Lastly, there's a list of contacts of whom you can take with you to another website.

Other features

IRC

I'm not sure if IRC is a de-centralised protocol. I assume it can be set up in a jabber sort of way, albeit message intensive.

Here's how I assume it can be like:

Joakal@example.com joins #patrick-moon-dot-com

* Joakal@example.com changes nick to Joakal

Patrick: ??

Sam: sigh I got banned by a pissed off moderator and now I cant talk to my friends on the website

Patrick: Did you try downloading your profile? Probably some contacts

Sam: That? I tried once but it was so impossible to fill out all these security questions so I couldn't finish it

Sam: Anyone?

Sam: No?

Sam leaves #patrick-moon-dot-com

Joakal: Hey Patrick, we on for this sat

Patrick: Hey, yep!

Other browser features

Allow @ in URL bar. Typing it in would bring the user to the public page. (Public, otherwise there will be a login.)

Subscription/following feature: followto:example@example.com. Clicking it subscribes the person that person's feed. Useful for newsletters or notifying users.

Protocol support

Make each part of the core feature a protocol standard. Make social networks easy and standardised.

This can mean that the social experience can be integrated into the browser, desktop or mobiles. For example, with joakal@example.com in my browser settings, it allows for getting updates, posts, instant messages, etc as instantly possible.

Backward compatibility

It's so important that even social networks have to rely on email to bring back users on notifications. http://www.avc.com/a_vc/2011/05/social-medias-secret-weapon-email.html

Good news everyone, because of the similarity to emails, everything can effectively become an email.

This is probably the most important feature; allow people to email back responses. This involves your friends without requiring them to be part of a social network. In a way, people see such messages may feel attracted to try out the new social network due to the simpleness of it.

Simply attempt to send a message to the other website. If they do not support it, then convert it into email instead.

Conversion table

Social Network Email
Posts, hierarchy list of old to new. Users get emails with a hierarchy of posts from new to old. Any responses from email users is compared and the difference is posted roughly with link to original.
Support Users can respond like posts above.
Media Unfortunately, email users can automatically authenticate via a unique private link. The social network can display who's re-sharing such passwords.
Instant Messaging Unfortunately, not possible.
Events Pretty close to the example above earlier. There are special links so that email users can indicate RSVP, Maybe, Decline or even post a response.

Summed up

Good

  • Stronger privacy control (*)
  • Can easily back up pictures, videos, etc (*)
  • Independence of other social providers (*)
  • Should transform email hosts into social networks

(*) Depending on social provider

Bad

  • Less spam control. Need to consider evolved spam controls. However, the exclusiveness of social network for some people should prevent it.
  • Contact request spam. Look at suggested solution in contacts of secret handshake.

What's next?

Patience is pretty important.

  1. Use it and add friends to it, more and more people will become aware. It's not going to be fast, but it'll disseminate slowly.
  2. With a great viable alternative, websites integrate the functionality.
  3. A matter of waiting for publicity and/or failure of a dominant social network.

How would closed social networks fail?

  • Implode. Probably privacy, security or something particularly controversial.
  • Cultural reasons. A huge amount of the social aspects of society is a very dynamic and evolving sense of taste. The crazy custom profiles of MySpace may have given a strong boost to Facebook for the simplicity, but those people also want isolation, their own communities. A central location does make it very hard.
  • Independent services. People are wary of linking social information with other things because employers might not like what people do.

Can they adapt and implement everything here?

Yes, but they are likely to lose money because they no longer have the perception of the dominant social network. Some ways they can later monetise:

  • Enterprise and general packages
  • Keep using their platform, advertisements and all
  • Leverage their branding to be a good user choice

All of which means acknowledging that they are losing momentum with users preferring to go to more open social networks.

What can they do to stop the idea?

  • FUD. Pay PR companies to release 'concerns' to news agencies to scare users. Also create realistic looking posts and statements on blogs complaining. For example "your privacy is more at risk, what if your employer finds out?" "I got so much spam!" "So hard to use." "I don't want to hurt my friends by leaving "
  • Lobbying against government net neutrality laws that would prohibit ISPs from charging potential young competing websites higher internet costs. Then collude with the ISPs to make it difficult for websites to reach people.
  • Adopt vendor Lock-in strategies. Locking down the platform from allowing people to leave by making it so easy to talk to friends but so hard to bring those friends to other services.
  • Create proprietary standards and force enterprises and governments to adopt them.
  • Patent any such implementations or similar variants of, and it would be a shame if people ignored gangster legal cues.
  • Pay to remove this article and sign a confidentiality agreement.

Diaspora Attempt

I worry that in the the attempt to replace the dominant social networks with more open social networks, they're slowing down the adoption unintentionally because of the GPL-like restrictions of their licence. To describe it simply, Diaspora's licence is ANU-GPL-3.0 that says that if you as a website owner want to integrate Diaspora code into your website, you must make your code public. For example, with a propertiary email server, making it work with Diaspora would require the person to release the code and lose 'competitive business advantage' at exposing my spam controls. Another licence discussion at Diaspora.

For Diaspora to be adopted more easily and made far more useful (ISP email, iPhone core feature, etc), change the licence to something with more freedom unless your aim is a slow adoption despite the open ecosystem it offers. Otherwise and except for email backwards compatibility, it looks brilliant!

Conclusion

For those trying to create a social network; I encourage you to be open and backwards compatible (SMTP, etc) and reiterate as the official standard bodies adopt more social standards like the iCalendar standard.

If I create a social network, could I make as much profit as the major networks? Yes and no. By making it much more easier to set up, more people will be attracted to the social life on the internet. But at the same time, it's hard to attract them to my own social network server. It's for this reason that I'm working on other projects instead and leaving this up as an idea. In fact, if social networks were open and standardised (instead of closed or GPL'd projects), I would integrate it into my projects.

How would I do the social network killer? Like email.

You can discuss this on Reddit

More reading