"This business is a living organism, multiplying constantly....
"....new ideas are ready to be devoured and redefined...
"....any kid, working in a garage, anywhere in the world with a good idea can put us out of business...."
When Gary Winston said these words about the project Synapse in the movie AntiTrust, he definitely was referring to the massively exaggerated versions of what social networking sites are today.
Rapidly becoming the virtual representations of individuals on the Internet, social networking seems to be the logical way of human evolution in the virtual world. Though I am not a great fan of Second Life, social networking sites seem to represent a simplified version of people, getting to the humankind. Given the limitations of bandwidth and technology, social networking is taking the concept of socializing on the network for the common people.
The Cyber universe past is littered with attempts with many such initiatives, but it is now that the concept of a social network is growing. There were BBS, forums, and even chat rooms, but the entire idea of social networking takes these systems to a new paradigm, a plane where individuals are not merely identified by usernames, but by the homepage profiles. In a way, the social networking sites have helped people create their true "HOME" pages on the wild web.
Social networking site like Facebook, MySpace or Orkut are competing with traditional search and mail application sites directly in terms of pageviews. The localized versions like MingleBox and Yaari also seem to have a decent following. Emails are now flooded with friends inviting to join social networks that seem to mushroom seeing the successes of the market leaders.
Given this scenario, it may not be unreasonable to expect some standards to emerge for social networking, just like on for emails or HTML pages. This may be a far fetched expectation deriving from the historical activities of standardization attempts that act on regulating chaos. Deducing from the way user communities have reacted, it is apparent that there would be atleast more that one social network active at any given point of time. Also, just like mail is the most used application on the internet today, tomorrow may be the day of the social networks.
Competing social networks may spend lot of resources on developing applications and services, that would be already available on other specialized sites.
Starting with all these premises, and considering the current setting of technologies like Microsoft CardSpace and OpenID, I believe that social networks could act as identity providers. Relating this to the real world, a social network could act like a home base for a user. A token issued by a social network, in form of an Infocard or OpenID URL could be used to access specialized resources like mails, calendar services and on forums. There are always self-issued identities for loners who trust no network, but that may come with sufficient trust constraints.
Social Networks based tokens could also enable cross pollination of users where one user from a community can post to a friend from another community. This initiative could also be leveraged to weed out fake profiles and offenders, with the trust being associated with the reputation of the social network site.
The concept is more like a meta environment system, with smaller social networks being a part of a larger eco system. From the user's perspective, it would feel more at home if he is signed up with a localized social network, and visiting other networks. The identity issued by the sites would be like their visas to other worlds.
Fore-runners like facebook have already given the users the power of APIs, with MySpace hot on the trail. This apparently is a realization that a closed set of developers are not the best set of idea generators. The API initiative a million minds thinking about new ideas for applications, anda profile on facebook is now more like a public view of "the room i stay in". Enabling Identity Systems would only push the boundaries beyond to open new avenues.
This suggestion may be shot down right away for reasons pertaining to business and competition, but the I am sure that the collaborative benefits of such a social meta system is something that the future would encash.