W3C to Explore a Federated Social Web

W3CYou might recognize the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) from such specifications as HTML, CSS, XHTML, ARIA, MWABP and other acronyms that are hardly pronounceable. Today the W3C has added yet another item to its list, in the form of the Federated Social Web Incubator Group (the announcement).

You may wonder what the W3C has to do with social media, other than the fact that it’s all built using W3C technologies (HTML, CSS, ECMAScript, etc.). The answer is pretty simple — social media lives on the web, uses web technologies, and is sorely lacking in any standardization. This does not mean, however, that the W3C is trying to create a standard. The Federated Social Web Incubator Group is not in the standards track, so don’t expect specifications to be forthcoming. Instead, W3C Incubator Groups are intended to quickly turn around ideas related to new concepts that aren’t (yet) candidates for specifications developed through the W3C Recommendation Track (which is how we got HTML).

The mission of the Federated Social Web Incubator Group is to provide a set of community-driven specifications and a test-case suite for a federated social web. As with anything as nebulous as this, I am curious about deliverables, which they are kind enough to provide in the working group charter:

  1. An interoperable number of user stories and associated test-cases for a federated social web, with a focus on a compelling user experience. A strawman input document is available.
  2. The requirements and design of a meta-model – on the semantic level – and design patterns – on the protocol level – in order to share status updates on the Web. These may be implemented by a number of different architectures, and these architectures will be compared.
  3. OStatus is one design pattern for the Federated Social Web. OStatus lets people on different social networks follow each other. It applies a group of related protocols (PubSubHubbub, ActivityStreams, Salmon, Portable Contacts, and Webfinger), and so is a minimal specification for distributed status updates, and many social applications can be modelled as status updates.

If you find yourself wondering just what the heck is a federated social web, you may not be alone. The casual user probably won’t have a clue, but someone developing for social media has already been plagued with the lack of interoperability, data portability, Balkanization, and general technical hurdles. Ideally, the W3C might have some novel ideas on how to address this, although industry will probably move more quickly than the W3C. Regardless, I recommend reading up on the concept in this post, which explains it almost in a federal/states’-rights model versus a sprawling open source model.

If you are a little too lazy to read through the entire thing, he had a follow-up post titled Features of a federated social web where he outlines some of the key features of current social networks and frames them as the possible basis for a federated social web, should one ever happen. Since I can tell you haven’t clicked that link, here’s the list, but you’ll have to go to the article for more detail on each.

When you break it down, the idea of somebody stepping in to help standardize all of this to make the social web easier to use can be pretty compelling. Whether the W3C decides it can even make an effort to try will be in the hands of this new incubator group. I, for one, wish them luck.



how will the w3c differ from opensocial? hopefully they'll blow the doors right off opensocial and get development brewing. i've found opensocial to be less than user-friendly.
this is awesome sauce though. extremely. setting up for a facebook vs. w3c showdown? hopefully.

jalbertbowdenii; . Permalink

The W3C is a standards body that has no presence in the world of social media, other than having produced the HTML/CSS standards.

OpenSocial is an API for social applications to share data across multiple platforms. It's technical specification and implementation.

At this point all the W3C will do is look at the world of social media and then decide if it has a place by helping to define standards, or perhaps even best practices.

In short, don't expect the W3C to *decide* if they want to do anything in that space for about a year.


I know from my point of view, an accepted, standard way to communicate the basics with social media systems (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc) would be a godsend.

Thanks for posting this one. Definitely let us readers know if anything comes of it!

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