XFN and the Open Social Network

In two of my recent posts (“Musing on Three Not-So-Fully-Baked Ideas” and “Social Networks: The Network or the Service?”) , I expressed my desire for a open and central repository system for social connection data. It looks like I just ran across a system that seems to address these wishes. XFN, the Xhtml Friends Network, “is a simple way to represent human relationships,” as one of the extensions of the microformats standards effort. In line with and similar to my own theoretical vision of a system, their “delusions of grandeur” state,

“1. XFN provides the basis for a world-wide distributed network of personal connections. Proprietary data-owning services like Friendster could be superceded by XFN crawling and searching sites —a sort of “Friendorati,” as it were. The advantage of a Friendorati-style network is that it allows every individual to fully express themselves through personal weblogs and web sites, instead of to the limited degree permitted by a proprietary service’s user interface.

2. Commercial services like Amazon, which currently ask users to manually register all their friends in order to make “wish list” and other information sharing simpler, may find it easier simply to crawl XFN relationships on the open Internet. This would allow a user to enter the URL of their site, and let the service programmatically analyze XFN relationships to build a list of friends.”

I love it. If we as a community were able to adopt this type system, it would indeed transition connection data to just that – data – forcing web-software networking applications to focus on creating valuable services, as opposed to building and retaining walled-in proprietary networks. However, as I commented previously, I do realize that this would take huge collective action to build a critical mass of users.

To start in this process, though, I have followed the Global Multimedia Protocols Group’s steps to get started and have (hopefully) successfully made my blog site XFN friendly. As such, my blogroll (maintained by BlogRolling) should now include metadata for which people in it I have met and consider a business acquaintance. (I’ve included their XFN friendly logo in my blogroll as well).

I would welcome anyone else’s ideas and reactions to this one (including tips if I haven’t executed on the setup correctly). Especially since I am still wrapping my head around the idea.

David Beisel

David Beisel is a co-founder and Partner at NextView Ventures. He has been focused on early stage Internet startups his entire career, both as an entrepreneur and venture capitalist. As an investor in the digital media space, David was most recently a Vice President at Venrock and previously a Principal at Masthead Venture Partners. Prior to becoming a venture capitalist, David co-founded Sombasa Media, an e-mail marketing company best known for its flagship product BargainDog. Sombasa was successfully acquired by where David served as Vice President of Marketing. David holds an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an AB in Economics, magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Duke University. He also founded and leads the Boston Innovators Group, an organization which holds quarterly entrepreneur events drawing a thousand attendees.