Take back the graph! Facebook, The Cloud, and a return to the basics of social networking

Image 341 "Take back the graph!" was @mattmiz's reply to my rant that The Cloud was shite, Facebook was poison, and that the future will be peer-to-peer social networking.*

Head in the clouds
How did I come about to that, since not long ago, I was Mr Cloud, harping about a time when all would be in the Cloud, with a dashboard (or a "door") to all our lifestreams, connecting to everyone, sharing, loving, communicating?

At least, that was the original vision of Ovi I first pitched at the end of 2005 (to the wrong crowd, though). I thought that the killer service would be Cloud-based and full of lifestreams. The last flourishes on these thoughts in the past years revolved around visualization and filtering of all these streams.

But I believe this no more.

Here is where I rain on everyone's parade
Facebook is the best example of how Cloud living can go wrong. Folks who are first discovering social networking are getting so mired in Facebook without understanding how Facebook is so twisted with respect to the users.**

And nothing is really in the Cloud. Is anything ever really in the Cloud? No, everything has always been on someone's servers. Their servers. Your data, their servers. [Despite this, there have been efforts to take back the graph, great standards work to democratize social networking – see here a suggested alternative.]

So, I say, The Cloud is a fantasy.

The past is future
Back in my father's day, data resided on someone else's machine. When I started with computers, it was the dawn of PCs, where the data resided on my machine. Then we hooked up all those PCs to communicate until some of those PCs got huge and ended up shouldering the work, serving up data stored out there somewhere.

And now The Cloud dream is to return to a time where the "terminal" is an appendix on the network, and that the network would store everything and do all the work. Terminals are to be just windows onto the Cloud, Just as our terminals were getting interesting and wide-spread – smartphones, tablets, amazing laptops.

How did we let that happen again? Bad move.

Peer to peer social networking
I claim that we need to move data and communication back to the edge of the network, residing in your machines, sitting in your hands, your laps, your tables.

I used to say that the ultimate social networking device was the mobile phone – your buddy list in your address book, billions and billions of text messages exchanged, a direct 1-1 link through a phone call.

Can that model be extended? Can we create a world where there is no Cloud, just a bunch of network bots pushing packets, be they IP or SMS or whatever communication packet we need to route? What will a peer-to-peer email-blogging-website-social network be like?

Do you want to have full control over your data, your social graph, your communications, just like you do now with your mobile phone?

So do I.

How will we do it?

*I've not really written these thoughts down before, since I've sort of stopped
worrying (or at least tried to), or hoped to do something myself. They
are peppered in the bookmarks and comments I have made in the past
years, though. And since I have a high idea to execution ratio, here's the thought for anyone to build upon.

**I deleted my first Facebook account in 2008. I only got another one last year because of work. But, yeah, it'll be gone as soon as I can ditch it.


  1. Until February of this year, I had been using Nokia’s Mobile Web Server (mymobilesite.net) for doing just what you are talking about in terms of managing one’s own social graph. Because I was aware of, and not willing to compromise to, the terms of service for FB and several others services, I found it one part a challenge and another part very freeing to have my own platform – and then try and work with people – literally network with them – so that they could access my content streams on my terms.
    Unfortunately, Nokia shut down the gateway for the Mobile Web Server service. And there was little noise made with the MWS because “Facebook could do it” and other similar comments.
    I still feel that given our use of mobile and social technologies, that such a platform has a veritable approach, and should be explored by many. Yes, there’s the issue of “what happens to this server when my mobile’s battery dies,” but really, I don’t know that it should be a concern. The way the MWS was designed, for example, connecting my device to MS Exchange took more battery life than running the server. And the open platform that it was built on (Apache, Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) meant that I could essentially have my own content management system (like a Blogger/Typepad/Wordpress and a Flickr, and a personal web-enabled Outlook) that I could intentionally share with others.
    It was ahead of its time. And unfortunately, closed down before this brooha happened. I miss it (badly). Others will pine for it when they realize what is possible.

  2. Thanks for the comment. And indeed, MWS was in the back of my mind. But it’s a bit of overkill. We could design something more streamlined, simpler, a collection of single-focus “servlets” much like we have an SMS servlet, email servlet, voice call servlet, that works with network transport bots (SMS, email, and voice gateways) on the network.

  3. Indeed. It’s a lot in terms of how it was given, but the focus. Was there. Just having the server and then the ability to pull an applet as needed would be very neat.

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