Which social networks do you participate in? MySpace? Facebook? Twitter? LinkedIn? Or some of the newer, smaller ones? Why would I put a dead end like MySpace on this list? Because I have reason to believe its fate is the norm for social networks, and Identity Aggregators are some tangible proof this theory is correct.
I have been rummaging around on my desktop looking for an academic paper that described the rise and sometimes fall of social networks as epidemics of complex infections. Unlike bacterial or viral troubles, social network epidemics are not something you get from one contact, it’s usually two or more, unless you are one of those rare trend finder/tool evaluator types. I can’t find it right this minute, but I’m going to keep an eye out for it. If correct, we should see Facebook crater over the next two years, losing 80% of its subscriber base. And that is a seismic shift.
How are those four big social networks I named used?
- MySpace – started out general purpose, devolved to being a music focused platform
- Facebook – started out college focused, blew up into a personal identity platform, then lost its way
- Twitter – Started out mobile friendly, became an identity platform, and has largely eliminated RSS feeds as a source of information
- LinkedIn – intentional professional identity network, unlikely to be dislodged, makes periodic unsuccessful breakout attempts
I’ve had MySpace for various experiments but it was never a social network for me, I was just browsing. I disabled a 3,200 friend Facebook account about two years ago. It gets resurrected occasionally when I need some Facebook data for a social network analysis class, but this is not something I use, nor do I have any urge to replace it. I have grown a couple of Twitter accounts to the point where they had five digit follower accounts and I’ve helped run a couple that had counts in the six digit range. I favor Twitter above all others because it’s light, fast, and easy to program.
I started rebuilding my nealrauhauser LinkedIn account from scratch in late 2012, paying much closer attention to whom I approved. It stands at 550 now but my record keeping of the progress fell to ruin in September, when LinkedIn Labs discontinued their network visualization tool, Inmaps. I just recently found a replacement in Socilab, a more flexible tool, but it doesn’t motivate me to take a weekly screen shot the way LinkedIn’s in house tool did.
The three connected clusters are Democratic political folks, foreign policy and security people, and the smallest are my newly hatched connections in the cryptocurrency realm. Divisions that were located by LinkedIn’s community finding are not visible here, and I’ve not taken the time to sort out why that is, although the fact that it’s not a wholly connected graph with me at the center might have something to do with that.
Socilab LinkedIn 2014-12-06
What do I mean when I say ‘identity’? This goes deeper than an account used as the means to log into other services, particularly those where its only role is to be the login credentials. Facebook and Twitter have taken over a large portion of that duty, MySpace was already in its twilight years before that concept took root, and “auth with your LinkedIn account” isn’t a terribly common option. The only thing that is stable for me is the LinkedIn account – all else is subject to whatever experiments I happen to be in the mood to run.
There are a class of sites that exist which can be described as being ‘above’ or ‘below’ these, depending on which metaphor you want to use to describe them. The phrase meta-identity comes to mind here – they exist as containers for two or more of the complex infection sites, and their strategy is to remain important as social networks with engagement features come and go.
There are a couple of identity aggregator sites I’ve used, and I think there is going to be an increase in this, partially due to the normal lifecycle of social networks, and also due to the various cryptocurrencies and their wallet addressing schemes. My very first identity aggregator, about.me/nealr, was idled years ago, and all this one does is serve as a repository for links, a sort of portfolio.
The most recent one I’ve come across was a complex infection. I got an invite from someone, then I noticed someone else in my Twitter timeline talking about it, so I finally signed up. keybase.io/slavecraton is mine, and it’s got all sorts of interesting stuff connected to it.
First, notice the Coinbase and Bitcoin address options? This is about your online financial presence as well as the other stuff. The lengthy key is the fingerprint for a PGP key connected to my gmail account. Gist repositories are for professional contributions. The Twitter account is my usual mix of serious professional, serious silliness, and bait for my unwanted (read: paranoid & delusional) fan club there. The only thing my Reddit account has ever done is go through the keybase validation process.
Unlike earlier identity aggregators, which were happy with whatever HTML links you wanted to add, keybase requires you to prove you control a given account and much attention is paid to cryptographic signing of things. This is meant to be a workspace for your verifiable identity. Here is what they have to say for themselves regarding the hassle of public key exchange:
Keybase is an open directory — no API key needed — so you can request maria’s key, get her proofs, and verify her identity in any software. The goal of Keybase is to let any security software be powered by usernames instead of offline key exchanges.
While the web interface for Keybase is smooth, the inclusion of command line tools at the core are something that sets it apart. I haven’t tried to start a new Keybase account from scratch using the lynx command line browser but I suspect it would work, and once created it’s clear that anything you can do with the web is available via the shell.
Simple, clean access like this is why I preferred Twitter over Facebook. One could be accessed with curl, the other … well … I never did actually figure out how to get Facebook to do anything. It was a labyrinth and every example presumed a web server was making requests rather than some simple command line utility.
Keybase.io isn’t the only effort to consolidate & secure information about social media accounts and cryptocurrency wallets. I also picked up a onename.io account around the same time, which I breezed through and then set aside due to lack of coverage and lack of command line support. There must be others, there are just the two I’ve noticed recently.
keybase.io is still invite only – if you want to look closer let me know, I’ve got half a dozen invites left.