Marc Canter on Social Software and Data Portability

Marc CanterMarc Canter of Broadband Mechanics opened the morning sessions at Northern Voice with his presentation “Bringing Social to Software”. With an apparently history in rock music and opera singing, Marc explained his career shift: “Software is the new rock and roll”. Diving into the history of online communities, he references Metcalfe’s Law (“the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users of the system”) stating that he disagrees with it. Current social networking is a great paradigm for “mating and dating”, but doesn’t work as well for families, older people, and business. Large networks are more beneficial to vendors than users, and users get more value out of smaller, niche networks that are vertical rather than horizontal. Bryght and Ning are two examples of “meta-networks” that allow many instances of networks to be created and lower the cost of doing so.

“I’m not a better user because I could have thousands of friends… I’d rather be on a network with the right 50 people”

Marc believes that current web widgets and Google’s OpenSocial platform are the beginning of bigger things. He demoed a project he’s been working on, the Bell Video Store, which integrates different componentized widgets that provide social functionality including ratings, reviews, and tagging. The other necessary aspect is standards such as OpenID and data portability standards. While many web applications offer APIs, they are often one way; you can read data from the application but not write to it. Two way APIs are necessary to make data portability a reality. Similarly, many large web sites are becoming OpenID providers, but the number of OpenID consumers (that accept OpenID as valid credentials) lags behind. The good news is that the standards are defined, the technology exists, and as Marc states, “Open is the new black.”

Photo by Chris Heuer