Friday, March 21, 2008

Social Aggregators

With Google's OpenSocial API, we're starting to see hints of the social networking interoperability I talked about a while ago, but the idea of "social aggregation" seems to accomplish some of the same goals. Feed aggregators, which gathering together information about updates to websites and present them all together for the reader's convenience have been around for a while, but these new social aggregation sites provide a simple way to gather together information about social network participation and online identity into one place.

There are two basic models of social aggregation services:

  • I aggregate my identities into a portal, which might be a public site I can share with friends as a "portal to all things David", or a private starting point for tracking and accessing my online activities;
  • I aggregate all my friends' identities into a portal, so I only have to go to one place to go to see what they're all up to, taking stalking to a whole new level.

(I came up with the name "social aggregators" independently, but it's pretty obvious terminology.)

Aggregating oneself seems to be a fairly basic way of handling online identity management, especially if one has a broad portfolio of online content and a common name (not a problem for me). The simplest example of this kind of aggregator is the site ClaimID, which doesn't provide information about updates to sites, but just gathers together all of your information into something like an online CV.

Aggregating all your friends is the more useful service: I don't have to go to every social network that my friends are on to find out what's going on with them. The service that provides the creepiest example of this is Spokeo. Once you create an account, you can either upload your address book, or, more simply but much less secure, give it your hotmail/yahoo/gmail userid and password and allow it to harvest your address book directly. Once it knows who's in your address book, Spokeo will go out and harvest all the social networks it knows about and reports to you what your contacts are doing on those networks. Spokeo goes to great lengths to explain that it is only accessing information that is publicly available on the net for anybody to see, and thus isn't an invasion of your privacy. But having Spokeo trawling the net for everything about oneself just feels qualitatively different from connecting with friends as one becomes aware of their activities in the various venues.

Between services like Spokeo and google alerts, the possibilities for Total Information Awareness aren't limited to just the government. Maybe privacy really is dead.

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