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Friends By Outline – a new experiment on open social network

Friends By Outline – a new experiment on open social network

With technology like XFN or FOAF, you can build an open social network. However, as I discussed before, an SNS is not so useful if there’s only a network, at least, not interesting enough.
Blog is a nature born social network system. Bloggers provide the content, blogroll provide the connection. If we count a web user as a node in the social network, besides blog, the person can also generate information like photos, bookmarks and so on. Can we build an open social network system to connect all these things together?
The first thing which may come into mind is RSS. However, RSS is more targeted on “content”, not the “connection”. Furthermore, things we can express with RSS is very limited. We have to use different namespace to extend it here and there. RDF may be another choice. But the problem of RDF is it is too complex sometimes. Don’t forget that RDF had been used on xml sync for much longer time than RSS but failed to dominant in the end.
OPML is wildly used in RSS aggregator nowadays but it can be more powerful than that. OPML defines the syntax but does not limit in the semantics. A lot of things can be described with OPML. Take a look at OmniOutline on Mac you will know that.
It is very nature to use an outline to organize a node in the social network as we described:

Export as OPML, it looks like this:





...



...


...

If every node in the web provides an outline of itself and add a link tag to indicate where we can find it like:

then, we can easily grab the content generated by the person behind the node. What’s more, the outline has the information about the other nodes which are related to the original node so that we can extend the network. With the detectability and extendibility, an open social network system – Friends by Outline – is formed.
The information provided in the outline is not confined into blog, photo and bookmarks. With the information about what books you have read recently, an open douban may be created. With the information about the to-do list, an open 43things may be created. With the information about what you want to sell, an open ebay may be created.
I made a plugin for wordpress to demo the idea. The plugin can do following things to me:

  • create an outline with the information I provide.
  • add a link tag in the head of my home page indicating where the outline can be found
  • do some fundamental data collection from the outline provided by my friends in the blogroll

After installing the plugin, you can set up it in the Option page:

The plugin can generate an fbo.opml under the home directory of your blog. Here’s mine. The opml is generated automatically. You don’t need to force the rebuild in the most of time.
If you friends also have the fbo.opml, you can get a page under the Dashboard with the information collected from them:

You can also make a page like this with a template. All these pages are generated automatically in the most of time.
If you want to have a try and have wordpress above 1.5.2, you can download the plugin from here. Unpack the file in the plugin directory. It will generate the fbo.opml in the root directory of your blog and store the opml files collected from your friends in the directory of plugin/fbo. This means you need to grant write permission for these two dirs. Normally, no extra work need to be done here. If you like, you can add me to your blogroll or let me add your to my blogroll to see the result.

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