It's time for an open source, global social network

May 12, 2010

New social networks launch every day, most with the same basic two features: find/chat with friends and share what interests you. Some of these networks make good money - others make a lot of money - so there's no doubt it's a smart business model.

Lately, though I've started to wonder if a social network should aggressively pursue a greater purpose other than just simple revenue generation.

I belong to a number myself - Facebook, Dribbble, Yukono, LinkedIn and Readernaut - all of which serve a specific need. Facebook, in particular has become an integral part of daily life. Facebook allows me to easily stay in contact with friends and family all over the world.

My problem with Facebook is that it leverages the best of the Internet and turns it into a major money-making bulldozer with little regard for the people who make it successful. Facebook is not open, not accessible nor does it respect individual privacy; some of the Internet's fundamental principles. I believe it's time for change.

Together we need to build an open source, global social network that not only enriches the lives of people inside it, but also the people outside. Really, that's what the Internet itself is supposed to be. Facebook is just winning the implementation race. So, what would it take for this sort of open source social network to rise up and take over?

To lead the charge, we should create an independent, non-profit foundation that stands for openness, interoperability and security. Having an official organization at the helm will aid in steering the ship in the right direction. The foundation does not necessarily need to be located in a common, physical space. In fact, running a decentralized program would be to its benefit.

The non-profit would create its own version of a global social network, freely distributed and accessible to anyone who wants to join, no strings attached.

Well, that shouldn't be completely true. One string could be that people, where possible, give back by donating funds, contributing time (design, writing, researching and programming come to mind), testing versions or spreading the word to others.

The foundation and global community of users would get to decide what features and tools are added to the network over time. They make it happen themselves. Not unlike a great neighbourhood, they look out for and take care of each other because, in the end, the favour will be returned.

The goal of building and nurturing an open source, global social network is highly ambitious, but in order to move forward and create something better - it's clear people like social networks for what services they provide - this is what has to be done.

I'm willing to pitch in. Are you?