Facebook, OpenID, data portability and the future of socnets

facebook open id

ReadWriteWeb broke the news a couple of days ago that Facebook is going to allow users to log in with their OpenID credentials granted by other sites, such as GMail, AOL, Yahoo, or dedicated OpenID providers.  You’ve probably seen this on other sites and the main benefit of reducing the number of passwords you have to remember (and making it easier to change).

The other benefit is that your OpenID account can carry some of your data, for existence your contact list.  The ReadWriteWeb speculates that Facebook has taken this step because it will enable them to more quickly provide utility for new members, thereby improving retention and increasing their growth.

I think this could change the face of social networking.  We are already seeing a shift towards tools that allow you to interact with multiple socnets from one place (our portfolio company WAYN now allows you to interact with Twitter and Facebook from within WAYN, and Tweetdeck and Friendfeed operate as social media dashboards) and data portability via OpenID could accelerate this trend.

I’ve long thought that we have multiple social graphs and most of them we just ignore, getting little value from the data they contain.  The longlist of my social graphs includes email, mobile phone, Facebook, Twitter, Friendfeed, LinkedIn WAYN and this blog.  If contact lists become portable via OpenID then tools that allow me to consolidate and manipulate each of these for their different purposes would be very valuable.

For example if I was using the new Plans feature on WAYN to organise a night out it would help if I was offered a list of people I might like to invite based on those who I call and email most often, whereas if I was organising a work oriented cocktail party a set of recommendations derived from my LinkedIn activity would be more useful.

According to this vision of the future socnets are less like portals and more like messaging hubs, with a variety of different modes for input and viewing content (including games and videos).  Right now the trend is towards consolidation – the larger guys are growing fastest, with Facebook and Twitter leading the way – but the logic above would lead you to expect that trend to go into reverse.  If things do pan out this way then tomorrows successful social media sites will be the ones that do one thing really well – Flickr for photos, maybe MySpace for music, maybe WAYN for making plans.

Right now data isn’t nearly this portable, as one of the commenters on the ReadWriteWeb piece points out Facebook is only really open on the way in – getting data out is more difficult.  Contrary to what I might have expected a year or two ago the trend is increasingly towards greater portability though – hence this post.