Technical and Privacy Challenges for Integrating FOAF into Existing Applications
FOAF Workshop
Galway, Ireland
September 2, 2004

Full paper (HTML)

Download PPT (2.1MB)

FOAF stands for friend-of-a-friend and it’s an open standard for describing your contact information and who you know. When social networking sites started exploding, many people were annoyed that they had to keep entering this information over and over again, and they also wanted to maintain ownership of their own information. I got excited about the potential for FOAF at Plaxo because we’re always looking for new ways to help users get their data in and out of other applications and services. Unlike most social networks, we don’t benefit from keeping your data trapped in a walled garden–quite the opposite! When I started looking mroe seriously at implementing FOAF in Plaxo, I noticed a number of issues–both technical (e.g. how to handle authentication) and privacy-related (e.g. do I have a right to publish contact info about the people in my address book, or is that their call?) that I thought the FOAF community should be talking about. After writing a blog post for Plaxo about the potential for FOAF and its challenges (which turned out to be our most popular post for quite some time), I expanded it into a full paper, which I presented at the FOAF Workshop in Galway, Ireland. I went to Ireland a few days early and spent them in Dublin, which I absolutely loved. Ireland has this enchanting mix of old- and new-world culture, it’s all iridescently green, and the people were all friendly. I took the train cross-country to Galway, which is also a very cool town.

I haven’t heard much about FOAF lately, though I believe the project is still being worked on by some people. I had high hopes that Marc Canter’s FOAFnet project (a subset of FOAF that lets you import and export your social network data from a web site) would be simple and sexy enough to gain widespread adoption, but it doesn’t look like it ever happened, most people don’t seem to be outraged that they have to maintain separate profiles and contact lists on MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. Maybe one day these sites will all sync with Plaxo, but until then they continue to be separate walled gardens that own your data.

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