mnot’s blog

Design depends largely on constraints.” — Charles Eames

Thursday, 29 January 2004


I have to confess to being a bit underwhelmed by Orkut after all the hype; it feels like just YASN. I’m not complaining — it’s cool, and until I write my own social networking software, I don’t have the right ;) — but it isn’t everything that such a beast could be, and I don’t think it would take that much to get it there.

To me, the biggest shortcoming is that, like so many other online services, it locks up your data where you can’t get to it. If I want to reuse Orkut data in my own apps — whether it be Excel, my address book, Yahoo’s address book or a custom Web app — I’m apparently out of luck. This is especially frustrating, considering how powerful Apple’s Address Book is these days (e.g., it can store information about relationships between people).

On the bright side, people are eventually going to run out of patience typing their data into each fad service every time they sign up, and syncing between their online services, desktop programs, and mobile devices ad nauseam. Hopefully, this will force the issue, by giving competitive advantage to the first one to step up to the plate.

How can Orkut fix this? Trivially, by making available import and export of a few different formats, like vCard and maybe FOAF. For bonus points, they could make it more granular than “all of my friends;” e.g., have a link on every page for a person’s vCard. And, what about an RSS feed for your friends’ details, so that you can watch them change in your aggregator? If it catches on, smart address book software could automatically update based upon vCard or FOAF data in RSS feeds; cool.

Also, they should take their ACLs one step further, and have a “public” level, so that you can selectively expose your information to people that aren’t Orkut members, at a well-structured URI. Everybody wins; Orkut gets more members drawn in, I have a convenient place to direct people for details (bonus: if it’s content-negotiated, I can direct machines there too). One of the reasons that Google is so successful is that it’s part of the public infrastructure; if Orkut and similar services remain islands, they’re not going to take root.

And, if they really want to blow my socks off, how about the ability to create graphs of your network grouped by companies, schools, interests, geography? With software like Graphviz out there, it should be easy.

UPDATE: Also, what about integration with Amazon Friends and other commercial applications? Even interop through a common inport/export format (FOAF? vCard? LDIF?) would help…