Social networks have become very important for a lot of people who spend a great part of their life on the internet for quite some time now; from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook to smaller apps like Twitter and Ma.gnolia which also provide some basic social networking features. Also many people are registered with more than one network and face the same problem each time they join a new one: adding profile information and – probably even more important – adding friends. Though usually they can’t import that data from one network to a new one. Those networks are silos – some call them walled gardens – meaning you get your data into the system but not out of it. The networks don’t care that its your data and your friends. They just won’t let you export it.
Some people have written great articles about so called portable social networks in the past (Simon Willison, Brian Oberkirch, Jeremy Keith,…) and more recently the number of people who are not really satisfied with the way existing networks are managing their data seems to grow. Portable social networks will let you import and export your data via open standards like microformats and OpenID, so they are a vision of friendly social networks a lot of people will embrace.
I have read with pleasure that some great minds (Tantek Celik, Brian Oberkirch, Daniel Burka, and Eran Globen) have joined forces and have started discussing and describing the goals and use cases of portable social networks. Some of their notes are on the wiki of microformats.org; so have a look there if you’re interested in the topic. This is really exciting because I think the right people are involved with it having experiences with social networks and development of microformats. While some promising approaches already exist (Plaxo and Videntity come to mind) I am looking forward to more discussions and hopefully practicable solutions.