We are very proud of our blogging community’s tradition of working to improve communities offline. Though these efforts don’t get as much attention as they should, bloggers have a long history of being extremely generous, and all of you who use the platforms we create have an incredible ability to reach a wide audience. That’s why we’re pleased to be working with Donors Choose to sponsor the Blogger Challenge.
Donors Choose is a non-profit organization that makes it easy for anyone to donate to public school projects in need of funding. The Blogger Challenge runs through the month of October and enables a blogger to select favorite projects, set a fundraising goal, and present his or her fundraising “challenge” to his or her readers. Every project listed on the site is a personal request from a public school teacher. Requests range from a class set of dictionaries ($150) to ‘Baby-Think-It-Over’ dolls ($500) geared at discouraging teen pregnancy. You can even help students travel to Washington, D.C. to see the Supreme Court in session ($2,000).
We’ve reached out to each of our communities on LiveJournal, Vox, Movable Type, and TypePad to encourage participation and support for the Blogger Challenge. But the effort goes far beyond even just our communities: Six Apart is joining Google, Yahoo!, and Federated Media in sponsoring the challenge, and we will give awards to the bloggers who help the greatest number of students.
Your lists of friends and connections on the social websites that you use, sometimes called your social graph, belongs to you. No one company should own who you know and how you know them. OpenID, which was born at Six Apart less than two years ago, was successful by embracing a similar philosophy: no one company should own everyone's online identity. An open social graph is just as important as an open identity.
- You should own your social graph
- Privacy must be done right by placing control in your hands
- It is good to be able to find out what is already public about you on the Internet
- Everyone has many social graphs, and they shouldn't always be connected
- Open technologies are the best way to solve these problems
- We're going to release code and demos soon
We believe in openness. We were early supporters of RSS and Atom for content syndication. We pioneered the use of the metaweblog and Atom publishing APIs. We developed the Open Media Profile for OpenSearch standard, which makes it easy for tools to both syndicate and consume custom search results. We helped create, and then quickly deployed the rel="nofollow" microformat to help limit the impact of comment and blog spam. Most of our code is open source, and we've announced a GPL distribution of Movable Type that will be available later this year.
Two of our platforms -- Vox and LiveJournal -- are social blogging applications. In developing and running those products, we hear from our users and customers all the time about the challenges they have around discovering new social networks, registering as a user and identifying people they already know on these new services. We believe that the problems our users are facing are not unique, and that there is an opportunity to use open standards to simplify and streamline the user experience when joining a new service that has social features at its core. This isn't just about making our services better; it's about helping you manage your social network on all of the services you use.
We've been working on solving this problem, and instead of just talking about it, we want to show you what we've learned so far. The final screencast in this post shows an experimental tool we've created at Six Apart to visualize public online relationships.Sign Up and Sign In with OpenID
Most services you visit require that you choose a username and password when creating an account. Beyond the security issues of using the same password everywhere you go, there are many services that only want to know that you're the same person who visited a week ago. Commenting on blogs is a great example of this; as a blogger I want to be able to build rapport with my commenters and reader community. On LiveJournal I can easily allow my friends who don't have LiveJournal accounts to view my protected content and comment on my entries by logging in with their OpenIDs.
OpenID makes it easy to sign up for a new service, by removing the hurdle of creating a new username and password combination, and entering in your name, email address and other personally identifying information again and again. It is estimated that there are well over five-thousand sites that support OpenID and close to 120 million OpenID enabled URLs.
In this brief 40 second screencast, you can see how easy it is to sign up for BackPack and sign in to Dopplr using OpenID.
With OpenID I can very easily signup for a new service such as Backpack by 37Signals, without having to go through the process of creating yet another account. Rather, the traditional username and password is replaced with my OpenID account and that is all that I need to login. Dopplr is another example where once I have an account I can attach my OpenID and use it to sign-in in the future. My OpenID, davidrecordon.com, points to my LiveJournal, Twitter, and Pownce where I all have groups of friends already defined. Yet when I login to any of these services I still start from scratch with zero friends.
Once you've signed up with a new service, one of the most important next steps is typically finding friends who are already there and inviting new friends to join.
Many services today, such as Facebook, allow you to log in and upload your contacts and friends from other services on the web. Facebook allows you to enter your email address and password from Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo! to extract all of the email addresses you've exchanged messages with. While you may not think of this as a security risk with services you trust such as Facebook, a few weeks ago it was shown that giving someone easy access to your email address books can have very unanticipated consequences.
Quechup.com launched a few weeks ago as a new social networking service. With little context for the new service, many people happily gave their Gmail username and password to check to see if their friends were already members. What many of those people did not realize is that Quechup could use that information to email invitations to join Quechup to everyone in their Gmail address book. Lots of unwanted email, and embarrassed apologies, followed.
Once you think about it, it's easy to see how an email address and password can be the key to compromising a lot of other personal data. With their shared login system, a Google Account allows access not just to Gmail but also to a PayPal-like Google Checkout account, managing your advertising via AdSense, and viewing traffic to any of the sites you're tracking via Google Analytics. If your Gmail username and password is given out to a rogue service it might mean that your bank account is wiped, you've started displaying distasteful ads, and the confidential traffic statistics to your site are now fully public.
One of the realities of today's web is that with the proliferation of services, users often share usernames and passwords across accounts. This creates a potential risk: if you provide your Hotmail username and password to find friends in your address book, a rogue service could try to use that username / password combination to log into your broader MSN identity and harvest more personal information about you. OpenID can help solve this problem by reducing the number of passwords you have spread across the web, and potentially adding additional strength at your OpenID Provider such as the services offered by VeriSign, MyOpenID, and Vidoop.
While OpenID helps to solve these problems, the problem itself is larger than just reducing the number of accounts you manage online. Getting to the point of it being common practice for a service to request your email password to invite your friends really illustrates just how bad this problem has become.Manage Your Network
We think that the best way for you to manage your network is to stop thinking about all of the little pieces and to start focusing on the big picture: you and the people who matter to you. We think relationships mean more than email addresses or which service you're signed on to at the moment. So we've created an experimental demo based upon open technologies OpenID, the Microformats hCard and XFN, and FOAF that allow you to see your entire network of relationships in one place - across services, across platforms, across the entire Web.
Interested? Let's see how it works.Describe Your Relationships
While some services discreetly search social networking sites for profiles given an email address (and then republish that information), that isn't the only approach for discovering people around the web. "Blogrolls" have existed for many years and are a simple way to link to your friends. But you could also use a "blogroll" to link to other places you are on the web. Our own Mark Paschal has done this on his site, creating a list of links on his sidebar that point to his profiles elsewhere on the web. We're currently building a simple Movable Type plugin that will help you create and manage your own "elsewhere list." You can imagine this feature appearing on Vox, LiveJournal and TypePad as well.
These lists can use XFN (a simple HTML microformat) to make these public relationships machine-readable. Once they're machine-readable, web services can make it easier for users to discover friends in a transparent and decentralized manner.
This 40 second screencast shows just how easy it is to use XFN even if you know nothing more than basic HTML.
Sharing your numerous online profiles is great, but real value comes in finding your friends on all of your social networks. This is made possible through the combination of technologies like XFN and FOAF, which together can describe who you know and how you know them. TypePad, LiveJournal and Vox produce FOAF (and soon XFN) automatically, and Movable Type has always had this capability. But it's not just our products -- services like LinkedIn, hi5, Twitter, Yelp and Last.fm all support these technologies.
This minute long screencast shows an experimental tool we've created at Six Apart to visualize these online relationships.
My colleague has listed his various accounts around the web on the right hand side of his website. He has used the Microformat XFN to markup these links which allows tools to automatically discover and understand their meaning.
This experimental tool uses XFN, FOAF, and hCard to understand these relationships online. Starting with Mark's url, which I entered, it will crawl the web looking for the other accounts he has marked as his own. It looks for bi-directional links between sets of URLs in order to established a verified claim. This graph shows all of the accounts Mark has linked together.
Now taking this a step further, from my website I link to my blog, Twitter, and Pownce also via XFN. These services each use XFN and FOAF to markup my friends in a similar manner. This allows tools to also automatically discover my friends on each service.
This graph starts at davidrecordon.com and shows my Twitter, LiveJournal, and Pownce accounts with all of my friends on each. My LiveJournal account is shown in the top right, surrounded by the one-hundred-and-fifty friends I have. My website links directly to my email address whereas my LiveJournal links to a hash of it; in the end they both link together. As I have a bi-directional XFN link with each of these services, the Facebook, Dopplr, and Digg profiles linked from my Pownce can also be interpreted as mine.
At this point, some of you are asking "Why would I want anyone to know all of this about me? What about my privacy?" Those are the right questions to ask. But it's important to keep in mind that our demo shows only relationships that have been already explicitly linked through use of hCard, XFN and FOAF. These technologies don't follow you around on the Web, "invisibly" tracking your every move. This is not spyware. This is not data mining. The social graph of your relationships already exists - our demo simply lets you see it. Wouldn't you rather be able to see what already exists so that you can better manage those relationships?
We believe that some people will see this as a powerful tool to take control of their privacy and, while we can't predict what forms those controls may take, we think that making the social graph visible is a powerful and necessary first step to freeing people from managing their network of relationships one piece at a time. At Six Apart, we pride ourselves in providing you the best tools for sharing your lives with the people that matter to you, and privacy plays a big part in doing that. Vox and LiveJournal have content privacy at the heart the service, and we are looking at how to provide you with easy-to-use tools for controlling the information you share about your identity, your life and your activities. We recognize and understand that as more interactions move online, not everyone wants every aspect of their life to be exposed to the world.The Conversation Needs to be Opened
While this is academically interesting, we're working on making these technologies real in our products. We're exploring the many different ways we can integrate what we've demonstrated here into Movable Type, Vox, LiveJournal, and TypePad. For example, imagine using Movable Type to define your accounts elsewhere around the web, and then allowing your friends on those services to comment using OpenID and bypass your comment moderation queue. Or using Vox to easily republish the content you've created on Flickr, Twitter, and other such services and share it in one place with your neighborhood.
Finally, if you manage a social networking service, we strongly encourage you to embrace OpenID, hCard XFN, FOAF and the other open standards around data portability. If you use social sites, we encourage you to think about what tools would be most beneficial to your online experience and to blog your thoughts with the tag or category "socialgraph". You'll also find us speaking at various upcoming events including the Web 2.0 Summit, Digital ID World, Web 2.0 Expo Berlin, and Graphing Social Patterns and we'd love to continue this conversation in person. You can also follow these technologies on our product blogs for Vox, LiveJournal, TypePad, and Movable Type. No matter the venue or format, we're excited to move this conversation ahead and look forward to feedback and your thoughts.
We've got a bit of company news today: Christopher J. Alden is the new Chairman and CEO of Six Apart. Mena's updated Mena's Corner with some background information, including a sincere thanks on all of our behalf for the great leadership that Barak Berkowitz has shown over the past four years as our CEO. And to hear a first-person version of the story check out Chris' own blog. (Naturally, it's powered by Movable Type.) If you're into the traditional press releases, we've got one of those, too.
It would be an understatement to say that it’s been a while since I’ve posted to Mena’s Corner. Personally, I’ve needed to take an extended break from corporate blogging and luckily this break was enabled by the great work our teams have done on the various product blogs.
However, it just wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t take the time to wake up the corner and personally write a post about some Six Apart related news that we’re announcing today. In brief, Chris Alden (who has served as EVP and GM of our professional division – basically, the Movable Type and TypePad businesses) is going to be the new Chairman and CEO of Six Apart, having been handed the reins by Barak Berkowitz.
When Barak officially joined Six Apart as our CEO in July of 2004 (he’d been acting CEO since January), I wrote in great length (my God, it’s five printed pages!) about the reasons we wanted him to be a part of the company and what it meant to Ben and I on professional and personal levels.
Naming Barak as CEO brought on a new phase for the company and for Ben and me personally. While it was a really tough decision for both of us when I handed over my CEO reins to Barak, we knew that it was a necessary step to take the company to the next level. Barak helped Ben and me to expand our own ambitions for the company and to really see how Six Apart could grow the blogging industry as a whole, and since he joined the company as CEO, that’s what he and Six Apart have continued to do. And for that, we’re incredibly appreciative.
In the post I wrote three years ago about Barak, one of the stories I told about him was when he did the wiring in our old San Mateo office:
At our office, we had phone cables running up and down walls and doorframes and across the floor. This mess was around for months until one day Barak came to work with a T-shirt, some tool-belt type thing and some device to do phone wiring. During the course of the afternoon, Barak installed our phone lines and cleaned up the office. … The fact that Barak will do this sort of grunt work is why he fits in at Six Apart.
What’s worth noting is that when I talk to people who have read my post, the above anecdote always sticks in their mind most clearly: that Barak is a guy who’s willing to be hands-on at any job at the company, and whatever he does, he’s going to dive in and do a good job at it. For people who know Barak, I think that’s something that really rings true about his character and personality, and it’s certainly one of the things we’ve appreciated most over the years.
And now, today.
We’re incredibly excited about what Chris will be bringing to his new role at Six Apart. As GM of our Professional Division, he’s led, inspired and motivated an amazing team that has injected a new passion and life into Movable Type 4.
While Chris will be the first to admit that reinvigorating and building Movable Type 4 was a group effort that involved his entire team at Six Apart as well as the outside community, I couldn’t help but be blown away by how Chris made us all feel the energy around the product.
While Ben and I were lucky to be able to contribute in small ways to the development of Movable Type 4, it wasn’t until we saw Chris present a preview of the product at our internal weekly company meeting that we understood just how exciting the launch was going to be (and frankly how much the product had grown). Over the past couple of years, it’s no secret that Movable Type hasn’t had the attention it deserves; that was just the reality of having such ambitious (and good) goals and a relatively small team to accomplish them.
To see the glow of Movable Type come back not just as a glimmer, but as a full-on spotlight, literally gave me goose-bumps, and the result—Movable Type 4—is the best version of Movable Type we’ve ever created at Six Apart.
It’s a really exciting time for Six Apart and I continue to have great faith in what we’re accomplishing. As I realized myself, being a CEO is a big job, and Barak has filled it for four years of hard work as we all built this amazing company. He moves on, but will continue to be a valuable advisor to us all. The Six Apart that’s empowering millions of people to express themselves wouldn’t be what it is without Barak, and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
Here is Chris's post on the transition.