De-centralised social networks and Drupal
Social networking via the Internet is going to play a crucial role in our lives for years to come. This is the reason that the battle for control of the "social graph" - the information about who we are connected with in what ways - is already well underway with all the big companies trying to contol or have access to as much of it as possible.
The basic choice is this:
Do we hand all the information to just a few big companies to control and distribute or do we each attempt to control our own bit of the social graph exercising more control about who we share it with.
This is not just an ideological debate (big company interests vs power to the people) it is a very practical issue. Can you allow such as important part of information be controlled by just one company? By comparison, imagine if all the websites in the world where hosted by the same company and all the networks were controlled by the same organisation. That isn't really an Internet is it?
The current state of play
The bad news at this point is that single point of control architectures are winning. Facebook and Twitter and their kin control the social graph. The good news is that work on de-centralised social networks is already well underway. To list just a few examples:
Status.net is an open-source, distributed micro-blogging service.
OStatus is a set of specifications that together can form the conceptual and technological basis to allow people to link up and follow each other on different networks in a transparent way.
These are not just theoretical solutions or simply specification a committee dreamt up. They are all technologies that work today.
Drupal and the de-centralised Web
So where does Drupal come in the picture? Drupal is used daily to built social networking sites and the numbers are almost certain to grow. To take as an example just one company I am involved with - Brightlemon - has about 1.125 million users on Drupal sites. If one were to put together just the bigger Drupal shops these numbers would grow exponentially.
Now imagine all these sites giving people the ability to handle their identity information in a de-centralised fashion. Being able to join in on conversations across sites and handle different types of identities. Imagine Drupal Gardens enabling you to quickly set-up your own site where you handle your identity and manage your interactions.
Implementing some of the technologies mentioned above as Drupal modules would take us a long way along that path.
So where do things stand?
Well, PubSubHubbub - one of the key Ostatus technologies - is possible in Drupal both as a consumer of information from PubSubHubub servers via the Feeds module and as a hub via the PubSubHubbub module.
There is an FOAF+ssl module on github.
What are you doing about it?
Here at Istos we would love to see a set of Drupal 7 modules that provide support for the complete OStatus stack and see where FOAF+ssl could fit into that. The first step we are working towards at is to provide support for Activity Streams for the Drupal 7 port of the Activity module (thanks Scott!). Then we would like to combine these with the PubSubHubbub work to have a working example of Drupal users across Drupal sites subscribing to each other's activity streams.
We will be writing more about the work we are doing and are hoping to catch up with other people interested in these stuff at the Copenhagen DrupalCon.