The social software industry (Web 2.0?) is the new buzz on the Web today. New virtual groups and communities are emerging everywhere at a terrific pace and users generated content websites are becoming the norm.
To create these communities, supporting websites are creating advanced user profiles to try to connect their users based on their interests, relationships with other people, projects involvement, etc. Recently I talked with some of my clients about their projects and each of them needed some type of user profiles into their system. Some user characteristics changed from one system to another but the core characteristics were always the same: name, homepage, geo localization, interests, etc.
It is really great, but as a user of these systems, something is bothering me with all these social websites: I always have to create a user profile, spending my time to create and update it when it changes. For example if I have to change my name (do not worry, it is not in my plans!) then I have to login into each of my user accounts, and change my profile accordingly. It is so boring that people just do not do it: they initially create their profile and forget it after.
The thing is that profiles do not grow-up with the user: the user’s interests will change in the future, but not the profiles’. Eventually the difference between the user and his profile become so big that the profile become a person of its own (okay, I admit that the concept of virtual-re-personification of a profile is weird).
Considering that, I tried to resolve the problem with the next generation of Talk Digger:
(Client on the image to enlarge it)
- Bob have a website (a blog?) on a web server with its own domain name (bob.com). Each month he has to make some changes to his FOAF profile because he gets new interests in life, work on new projects, etc. Considering this, he edits and changes the FOAF profile hosted on his web server accordingly.
- The updated FOAF profile is then saved on the web server and available to anyone connected on the Internet.
- Bob also have a Talk Digger user account (that is also a FOAF profile). Each week Talk Digger will check if Bob changed his FOAF profile, and if Bob changed it, then Talk Digger will update Bob’s Talk Digger user account accordingly to this new information.
- The new information is saved on Talk Digger and all the Talk Digger users instantly have access to that new and updated information about Bob.
- Bob’s FOAF profile hosted on his web server and Bob’s Talk Digger user profile are synchronized and reflect the changes in his persona.
What is really cool is that Bob do not have to care about his Talk Digger user account. He only has to change his FOAF profile hosted on his web server and within a week the changes will appear on Talk Digger.
It is cool with Talk Digger, but thinks about it if all the “communities’ websites” that Bob is subscribed to would do the same thing? Bob would not have to think about his users profiles scattered around the Web and he would be sure that all his information would be up-to-date.
This is exactly what the new generation of Talk Digger is doing right now and it is working quite fine. Users can import their FOAF profile into Talk Digger and then Talk Digger will crawl their profile once a week or so. That way, in two clicks, they created their Talk Digger user profile with their personal information and do not have to bother with updating their Talk Digger user profile anymore.
The advantage for communities’ websites by using FOAF profiles is that it is becoming the norm to define users’ profiles on the Web. Millions of Internet users already have and maintain their FOAF profile. But the real advantage of FOAF profile is that they are defined using RDF. So a user could extend their FOAF profile as infinitum using different vocabularies and then creating a more-than-human detailed profile. Then communities websites would only retrieve the information they need (or understand) of that profile (one website could only need his interests and another one only his connections with other people but both information would be available if they eventually need it).
This is what it is all about: helping people to manage their online persona. That way they will not have 20 different descriptions of themselves scattered on the Web as time go on.