The Key To An Open Source Social Network Is Still People
At last week's OSCON conference, the big topic on the minds of open sourcers was whether or not an open source social networking offering can break down the walled gardens of popular services such as Facebook, and win. The conversation already prompted our post "Why Does FOSS Development Lag the Innovation Curve?" Despite some fist-pumping at the conference, though, there isn't any clear open source platform that appears to have a chance of toppling the Facebooks and the Twitters of the world at this point. And the problem is people.
People are key to what makes social networks strong, and Facebook is now 500 million people strong--enough users that if it were a country it would be the third largest in the world. When people thought MySpace was cool, it was strong. When they didn't, it became weak.
We've written widely about open source attempts to break down the walled gardens of social networks, such as Identi.ca, exoSocial and Diaspora. At last week's OSCON conference, officials from Identi.ca made all the right points about the opportunity for open source social networking efforts to succeed, but none of the right points about why the walled-garden services are the ones succeeding.
At OSCON, today's popular social networking services were compared to the closed systems of the 1990s. In those days, it wasn't uncommon to, say, need to be on MCI Mail or CompuServe to be able to send another person on one of those services a message. They were closed e-mail systems. People didn't tolerate that, and the current argument is that they won't tolerate walled gardens among social networking services either.
The problem is, though, that they are tolerating those walled gardens--in spades. How can anyone argue with 500 million users? The people voted, and there is the result. It's unlikely at this point that we will see an open source platform turn Facebook into AOL. I still see opportunity for open source social networking offerings, but the current ones need better marketing behind them and much more. Which takes me back to my original question, "Why Does FOSS Development Lag the Innovation Curve?"