Brian Oberkirch explains how to make social components more social

Brian Oberkirch, the social media, web development and marketing consultant, delivered a talk at Web Directions North today about making sure social applications “play well with others.”

Oberkirch stressed that the “small pieces, loosely joined” model is the best way to approach social applications. Open, modular design (both hallmarks of UNIX development) and doing one task extraordinarily well is what it takes to create a great web app. Many apps try to do everything and fail to do anything well.

Oberkirch also pointed to social networking fatigue as a looming problem, and that while alpha geeks are the first to adopt digital identities online, they need to look at the design of social networking tools and make them much more portable, hackable, and distributed. Instead of endlessly filling in the same data in numerous sites, users should be able to manage their online identity, their friend lists and their preferences in a more streamlined manner.

He said the technology, in applications like OpenID, oAuth already widely available now, while the Creative Commons movement helps to propogate ideas of openness and sharing.

But in order for everyday users to adopt these technologies, they shouldn’t even have to know what technologies are underpinning a more social experience, he said. He pointed to foamee, a “who do I owe a beer” app that assumes you already use Twitter and adapts your account to that site. Open sites that allow exchange of these APIs allow for simplifying logins and pooling of data. Another app he pointed to was Dopplr, which uses your Gmail or Flickr info in order to populate a friends list that informs you when they’re in your home town. Plaxo is also designed to consolidate a user’s identity over numerous site sin order to make their online identity easier to manage.

But Oberkirch said no-one knows what the killer app is for portable social networking, at least not yet. He charged developers to work on reusing identity, making profiles portable, creating ways to import contact lists, but also to keep privacy concerns in mind.