Social software again

All the hooplah over Orkut last week got me thinking more about this “social software” phenomenom from sites like Orkut and Friendster. You may remember I’ve ranted about Friendster before. My conclusions at the time were that I could see some value to it, but didn’t know what I could actually do with it.

Several months later, same results. What do I do with this type of software? I don’t need a date. I get bored with searching for people I don’t know when all I can do is search. They’re poor at facilitating communication compared to other technologies. I already have an address book—several, actually—of people that I do know and keep in touch with. So?

So, all of these social networking sites seem to me to be half-baked: they’re a framework built upon an interesting idea, but they’re not done yet. Honestly, I’m not even sure I can tell what the end goal is—having an interesting idea doesn’t guarantee success.

The interesting thing about Orkut is that it’s an invitation-only service—meaning, that every user is linked to every other user in one big network—unlike Friendster or the others where there are “pockets” of networks, existing independently. Having everyone linked in some way is inherently more valuable to me; stand-alone networks diminishes the value of the system.

But what system? Still a problem. I suppose it would be interesting to be able to crawl or browse the network of people—the big one, like Orkut does—and be able to drill-down into user data to varying degrees, based on the proximity in the network that user is to you. But there would have to be more than just user data; I’d want to drill-down into their online presence/identity/platform—the blogs, the photo galleries, the web pages and XML files of metadata, their trail of public interactions across the web (like on forums, or weblog comments)… As an example, a user browsing/crawling me would be able to drill-down into, which is becoming more and more the platform which defines my online existence. From here they could read my weblog and the archives, follow the links to any projects I’m working on (that I choose to share), see what sites and blogs I read, play with any apps I develop, etc.

(I realize as I write this I’m also envisioning some of the online experience David Brin wrote into his near-future novel, Earth. But I haven’t read it in a long time, so I may be way off.)

But, I can accomplish a lot of that now anyway, why another service for it? As far as I’m concerned, the real social software has been around for quite awhile now: BBSes, email, IRC, Usenet, instant messaging, weblogs. There’s more, but you get the idea.