Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

Social software applications are a lot like the old Eastern European governments, or the Bush administration. They want to know who you know and what your relationship with them is, and they're not above harassing you endlessly to get it. "Ve know you hav relatives livink en MySpace und ve vant you to categorize zem as Family!"

And, OK, that's what makes social networks social. The computer needs to have things spelled out for it, defined by simple relationships. Also like the Bush Administration.

But at least residents of totalitarian governments only had to answer the questions once. ("Ve know you hav-- Oh, vait. Mien bad. Ve already gotten you.") With social applications, simply labeling someone a friend isn't good enough -- you have to tell everybody, over and over and over again.

If I'm friends with, say, disreputable playboy and gadabout Andy Baio (or if I was before this post) and have gotten him to admit the fact to Flickr, it's annoying to have to coerce the same admission to Vox, and to LiveJournal, and to LinkedIn, and to Eventful. Aren't computers supposed to be good at sharing information? Doesn't it have weekend plans to get around to being free? What ever happened to FOAF anyway?

Single sign-on, the holy grail of cross platform user simplicity, will probably never happen -- TypeKey and OpenID and Passport and LID and Liberty and God knows how many more attempts at it notwithstanding. There's too much power in locking users in. And that means that the metadata attached to those users -- like, say, their social relationships -- aren't going to be shared between providers, either.

But as that metadata becomes more complicated, more useful and more valuable, re-entering it into every goddamned site that you want to selectively share information from is going to get real old, real fast. ("Flickr, meet Vox. Vox, Flickr. Vox, Flickr and I go back a bit and you should get him to tell you who all my friends are-- What? Well, why not? Well then, what about Upcoming? LiveJou--? Oh, for Christ's sake!")

And, admittedly, these complaints are largely theoretical coming from someone with three two friends. But given the power of social data -- and the features that can be driven by it -- the information is too important to be locked up in proprietary databases. If single sign-on isn't going to happen -- and it isn't, given that even Vox doesn't use either of Six Apart's SSO protocols -- then at least give us a common, reliable and simple way to import and export the data. FOAF, something new, it doesn't matter. Just don't make me go through the tedious process of begging people to acknowledge our friendship again.

Because I think I'm on thin ice as it is.

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is I'd love to hear from you!

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