Evan Prodromou Speaks on the Future of StatusNet
There's no moss growing on StatusNet these days. The company has been busy announcing cloud service plans, an enterprise network service, and the 0.9 release of the open source StatusNet microblogging platform.
To get a sense where all this is going, I took the chance to ask a few questions of StatusNet's CEO, Evan Prodromou. He gives the scoop on the new stuff coming to StatusNet and provides a few thoughtful answers on where he thinks social media is heading.
OStatic: What inspired StatusNet? Why do we need an open source microblogging platform?
Social networking software is hugely popular. But most social networking software is provided as a consumer-oriented service in the cloud. Open source microblogging software puts this functionality in the control of the users; they can use it for public networks or private ones. We think microblogging is too big for any one site or company.
OStatic: StatusNet is now offering everything from Identi.ca to private plans, single-user plans, community plans, and offerings for the enterprise. How do these fit together? What's the use case for individual plans vs. enterprise plans?
There's really two sides: the public and the private. On the public side, we see people using community sites to bring together public organizations. Single-user sites are great as broadcast platforms for a company or person. We see community and single-users sites working together in a network-of-networks using simple federation protocols.
On the private side, there's a great symbiosis between the cloud plan and enterprise installations. You might think that small and medium-sized businesses will be attracted to the cloud, while larger organizations would want the internal deployment, but I think it's more complex than that. The cloud makes sense for some large organizations. What really makes a difference is how integrated the organization wants the software to be in their network, and how much they want to customize the server for their own needs. We've had some very, very big organizations who want to use the cloud.
Identi.ca is our flagship site, and it's the way that most people up until now have tested out the software. Over the 18 months of its existence developed into the main social network on the Web for people involved with open source software and open Web standards.
But the social Web needs to be a network-of-networks — not just one big site. We hope that people will use personal StatusNet Cloud accounts, or public community sites, to connect to the networks that matter to them. So, if Identi.ca's community resonates for you, I highly recommend that people have an account there. But if not, there are a lot of other options available.
OStatic: On the surface, this seems ripe for fragmentation -- whereas Twitter is one site everybody flocks to, there seem to be almost too many options with all the offerings from StatusNet. Is that a concern, or how is this solved?
It's solved with interoperability. We've developed a great protocol called OStatus that's based on some incredible emerging technologies: PubSubHubbub, Salmon, ActivityStreams, and Webfinger. We think it's a great way to keep these diverse networks interconnected.
There are a number of services -- Google Buzz, WordPress, LiveJournal, Tumblr -- that already implement OStatus partially. We're looking forward to making them all work together well.
OStatic: Some folks have criticized "social media" as being a flash in the pan. Any concerns that microblogging is a fad that might give way to next year's hot new technology or trend?
I think that that's already happening. We've seen a transition from plain-jane microblogging in 2007-2008 to much more sophisticated and rich status updates in 2010 and beyond. The rapid growth of location-based services like FourSquare and Gowalla is also part of this evolution.
But "microcasting" model -- broadcasting updates to a circle of friends and fans -- seems to be growing, not shrinking. Social news like digg.com, social music like last.fm or blip.fm, and photo sharing like Flickr are incredibly popular.
Technology is always changing. That's one of the great strengths of open source software -- it can rapidly adapt to new and future needs.
OStatic: Old Unix hands might remember "finger," but it's probably not a common term. Can you talk a bit about WebFinger and what it's used for?
WebFinger is an addressing system. Blaine Cook (former technology lead at Twitter!) had the key insight that we don't associate URLs with people -- we associate them with "pages". We associate email addresses with people -- or, things that look like email addresses.
WebFinger gives users an email-like address that they can share with friends. So if you want to subscribe to Dewitt Clinton of the Google Buzz team, you can just use his WebFinger account, firstname.lastname@example.org, rather than trying to find an URL for his notice feed.
My WebFinger account is email@example.com. We have an firstname.lastname@example.org for updates about the software, and email@example.com gives info about the StatusNet Cloud Service. It's a really convenient system!
OStatic: Any privacy concerns or problems that people should be aware of with WebFinger?
Well, clearly, if your Webfinger and your email address are the same, you're not going to be able to give out one without giving out the other. But there are some obvious workarounds for that.
OStatic: StatusNet has been growing quite a bit lately. What's the vision for the next year or two — and what will it take for you to consider StatusNet successful?
We have a lot on our plate for the next couple of years. In the near term, we're going to concentrate on providing enterprise status updates for our business customers. But we also want to make sure that an open and distributed social Web continues to grow and thrive.
Probably our biggest challenge is going to be reaching out to developers and designers to get them used to our software. We want Web marketing agencies and enterprise software developers to have StatusNet as a tool in their toolbelt -- their go-to software for setting up system updates.
My personal goal is to see a StatusNet site for firstname.lastname@example.org. I believe that open source software is the best tool for open government, and I hope we can see more of its use by the Obama administration.