What do IM and social networks have in common?

I haven’t used a dedicated instant messaging (IM) client for many months. I do occasionally use text-chat facilities when they are built into other tools - notably Skype at the moment. Last week however, a colleague sent me their contact details on four of the available IM networks:

  • AOL/AIM
  • Yahoo
  • MSN
  • Google

Because I cannot control what my ID or ‘screen-name’ will be on each of these, I am forced to use different IDs for some. I would love to be able to use my OpenID for all these, but none of the above networks offers an OpenID consuming interface. If I were to rely on IM more than I do, then I would want to establish my ‘presence’ on each of the networks in which I have contacts or ‘buddies’. Using an aggregation client (like the excellent Adium for the Mac, or if you prefer a web-solution, Meebo) makes this just about manageable. My presence can be maintained on all four of these networks while running a single client. But the networks are not joined - buddies on one network cannot talk directly to buddies on another. They are also not interoperable (although Google do at least show willing by supporting the Jabber protocol). I’m quickly remembering why it was that I gradually gave up on IM in the first place…. So, now, as well as buddies, I have friends, thanks to social networking systems like Facebook and Twitter. At one time I was maintaining three IM networks, with many actual contacts spread across them, often with several identities each. Now I’m doing the same for several unconnected, and mostly closed, social network systems. One popular aspect of such new systems is their support for an extended ‘status’. Where IM allows the user to indicate if they are online, ‘busy’ etc, Facebook and Twitter (among others) encourage the user to give a little more detail. Attempts have been made to build aggregation clients such as MoodBlast which allow the user to update their status across several social-networking systems. The developers behind MoodBlast have removed support for updating Facebook however, claiming that this is motivated by a threat of legal action from Facebook. Now, it’s certainly not unusual to maintain more than one, unconnected circle of contacts. Many people prefer to keep their professional and their social networks separate. But, and this is the important point, I really don’t want my social networks to be constrained by particular software choices. As I can connect resources across the web in a uniform way to form a network of resources, I want to be able to connect people to form my social network. Perhaps OpenID or something similar could provide the solution.

Update: Michael C. Harris says that Facebook have restored the ability for third-party apps to update a user’s status - see his comment below for a link to some details about this - thanks Michael.



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