Technology giveth and technology taketh away.
Advances in networking technology have made social networking sites possible. The peer-to-peer networks have the power to link people from Miami to San Francisco, help them find friends they’ve lost touch with and initiate online relationships. But if the friend-of-a-friend (FOAF) project takes off, it could eliminate part of the need for social networking sites.
FOAF (foaf-project.org) is trying to create a common language that can be used to tag Weblogs and homepages. It’s a computer language that bloggers can use to identify and describe themselves. One FOAF file can read another, making it a technical tool for finding others with similar interests, to make introductions and to filter communications.
It’s a technology that could eliminate the need for a middleman like Friendster to introduce friends online. Users plug in a FOAF explorer to identify and acknowledge others. FOAF is a self-conscious effort by the tech-savvy to circumvent services like Friendster or LinkedIn, which push the filtering and self-selection process onto a common server. There’s an element of excitement and an element of the subversive to it.. According to one FOAF developer’s Web page, the FOAF vocabulary is managed more like a free software or open source project (a la Linux) rather than in industry standardization effort.
FOAF is still the exclusive domain of the tech-savvy, but the project demonstrates how easy it is to circumvent sites like Friendster. FOAF is not a service and a friend can’t use it to ask another for an introduction. It is, however, a tool that can be used to find common ground with other Web users and to sort and filter through them without pay a Web service to do it.
The upshot is that technology will ensure that the basic service of connecting friends on peer-to-peer networks will remain free. Social networks, then, must come up with services that are so valuable that users will actually pay for them.