The recent announcements by MySpace (Data Availability) and Facebook (Facebook Connect) are an important step in a natural evolution of the web toward integrating social features into every web site. As Ringside Networks demonstrated in our first two deployments (see The Business of Being Social), enabling a web site or social application to make use of a social context being provided by another party is important to support a user’s goals. Kudos to these two networks (and the many more I expect to emerge over the coming months) for recognizing that the user should have the power to use their social network how they see fit. Users should have this capability across and between networks as well, which is one of our technical priorities for the Ringside Social Application Server.

These first forays into identity and profile sharing appear to be about big social media sites starting to integrate with big social applications. Users will be able to share content broadly using existing social connections, which will certainly be a good thing. What these announcements really imply is a change in the dynamic between a social application and a social network, letting the social application be “in front” of the user with the social network being “behind” the social application. So, hypothetically speaking, instead of having to use the Digg Facebook application to share bookmarks with your Facebook friends, you may be able to do so from within the Digg site (possibly automatically, since this data may make its way directly into your Feed). Likewise, you may be able to use your Facebook login and password to login to Digg, hopefully making that one less password you will need to remember. Finally, you may be able to “assign” your Facebook profile picture and other profile fields to be use from within Digg for your profile there.

Ringside Networks provides an open source platform (currently in beta, available via SourceForge) that supports (among other features) the ability to tie multiple identities together and to use a social network identity to authenticate to a web site or a social application built using the Ringside platform. Now that there is explicit support for both authentication and profile data sharing from these large social networks, we have the possibility not just to tie the identities together but to use the entire profile as the base data when forming these associations on a third-party web site. Over the next few months, we will be looking at how to support not only these announcements by Facebook and MySpace, but also emerging open standards in this area (e.g. OpenID, OAuth, and OpenSocial). The major social networks opening up in this way enables us to empower sites that run on our platform to engage more deeply with their users and more broadly with the networks those users belong to.

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