Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Do We Need "Portable Relationship Maps" for Social Networks?

By Dennis D. McDonald

In Yet another reason why we need a single, trusted, and protected identity system Jeremiah Owyang voices a common complaint about social networks. At one point he writes:

We need a system that we can all trust where we own and can confirm our data and profile information, can control different privacy permissions within our network (friends, family, work, other) and give us the ability to remove, export or delete it.

I’m not sure I agree. This is the comment I left on Jeremiah’s blog:

Jeremiah, thanks for writing this. I am beginning to think that the problem may be more difficult to solve than some people think. It’s not just a question of being able to prove who you are so that a commercial entity will trust your purchase transaction, it’s about proving who you are in the context of the relationships you have with other people. Social networks differentiate themselves via the types of communications and transactions they manage through different types of trusted relationships within their groups. Facebook “friends” are not the same as Linkedin “connections,” etc. etc. To think that it would be possible to come up with a standardized — and portable — definition of friendships and personal and business relationships, that could be linked to an accepted personal identity program, is going to be a very tough sell, both to the networks that are trying to differentiate themselves, and to the individuals who may want to keep different aspects of their relationships separate.

I’m not saying it would be impossible to come up with a good definition for what I call “portable relationship maps,” but I think it is going to be very difficult to do so. For example, large multinational insurance companies face such problems when they have to take family relationships into account in the definition of policy and payout terms. Traditional family relationships may be differently defined in different cultures, and this is the type of thing that would have to be taken into account in portable relationship maps that cross national and cultural boundaries.

Yes, I realize it’s a hassle to maintain many different profiles and sets of “friends.” At the same time, if a network comes along with a unique value proposition, I want the ability to decide whether or not it is worth the cost (in time and frustration) in setting up and maintaining a profile and relationship map. It will be to that network’s advantage to make it easy for me to join; being able to input and screen one’s email address book is a step in the right direction. But I would not want to see a standardization effort emerge that might thwart the ability of networks to compete on different features and benefits that center around relationships.

Copyright (c) 2007 by Dennis D. McDonald


More Thoughts on Developing a Social Network "Portable Relationship Map" Standard

More Thoughts on Developing a Social Network "Portable Relationship Map" Standard

Age, Association Member Retention, and Social Networking