Making Information Like Avatars… An Open Web for Business Data

Recently I attended the Wellington installment of the WordCamp series – WordCamps are “conferences that focus on everything WordPress. WordCamps are informal, community-organized events that are put together by WordPress users like you. Everyone from casual users to core developers participate, share ideas, and get to know each other.”

We were lucky enough to have creator of WordPress and founder of Automattic, Matt Mullenweg on hand to take part in proceedings. Something he alluded to resonated with me. Mullenweg was asked whether Automattic wanted to go head to head with the likes of MySpace and Facebook to create a competitive social network. While Mullenweg king of joked about his organization taking on Facebook, he did give us an insight into where he sees Automattic, as a company committed to openness generally,  and open source in particular, fitting into this space.

As Mullenweg pointed out, utilizing social networks is fun, but it can get ugly when questions as to the ownership of an individual’s social graph come into play. Despite Facebook seemingly embracing openess with Facebook Connect, the reality is that their version of openness is both constrained in terms of breadth, and very much a one-way street. Mullenweg contends that there is a different kind of openness that he’d like to see happen – one where an individual’s entire social graph, including the content they’ve created but also the links to their network members, would be portable.

Mullenweg used the example of Gravatar, an Automattic service which allows an individuals avatar to appear when they comment on a blog anywhere around the web. As he said “people don’t care what it took to make that image appear, all they care about is that it does appear and that they have some central control over it”. Mullenweg, without divulging plans, alluded to Gravatar becoming more than just a central profile image repository, but rather a central profile repository – watch this space!

While Gravatar’s are seen as unimportant and more consumer focused, I believe they are very analogous to what we see happening in the business space, especially around small and medium business who generally have the double difficulty of a diverse software requirement along with a low resource pool to achieve custom solutions.

As I’ve said many times before – finding a common lingua franca can unlock a whole range of opportunities for users… And this utility is just as relevant (actually more so) in the business sphere as it is in the social sphere.

While recent attempts to ease usage across platforms have focussed on the authentication aspects (OAuth in particular doing a great job), less has been done about the data itself. I wrote about the OAccounts initiative some time ago, it seems little has come of that. At this point in time it seems left to the platform players to think about true data portability – something inherently built in with platforms such as force.com an the Intuit Partner Platform. And it’s for this reason that I’m starting to wonder if the push for integration among small business facing SaaS apps is misguided. Perhaps the reality is that, until such time as a standard data format across third party applications is introduced, it’ll be the platforms that really show the value for users.

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Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. His business interests include a diverse range of industries from manufacturing to property to technology. As a technology commentator he has a broad presence both in the traditional media and extensively online. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

More about Ben here.

One response to “Making Information Like Avatars… An Open Web for Business Data”

  1. conceptfusion

    “Mullenweg was asked whether Automattic wanted to go head to head with the likes of MySpace and Facebook to create a competitive social network”…

    Glad to see someone was paying attection to the questions in the Q&A (that one was mine)… Matt’s jokes aside I still very much believe that the direction WordPress is heading in will naturally make it a competitor of sorts, if not directly, to the MySpaces and Facebooks of the world as the single user and multi-user codebases merge and BuddyPress matures.

    Gravatar is obviously already used extensivly across the various WordPress properties and will likely be a key element in the social evolution of WordPress too.

    With over 5 million WordPress.com blogs and 5.5 million wordpress 2.8 downloads (and counting) that makes for a pretty sizable social network right off the bat… it’s no Facebook for sure but it’s going to interesting to watch over the coming months.