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I love Stan! Stan loves ham... ham I am!

I'd thought of this a few years ago, but stopped pursuing it when I heard that a company was developing something like it. I haven't heard of that company since then, so here's the idea so someone else can pick up the ball and run with it.

All these social networking sites are such a bore. You have to sign up for them and get your friends to sign up for them. Some of my friends love them because you can meet new people. Others love them because it strokes their ego to see how many people they can accumulate.

Well, why not tap in to the existing social networking structure of Instant Messengers? Just write a plugin for Gaim, Miranda, or Trillian that lets you see your friend's friends.

Mouse over a friend and you can see all their friends, or even better, create a chat room that anyone can enter as long as they're connected to you by n number of people. Let's make it 1 person away from you. Only your direct friends can join in on the conversation. Well, when your friend joins, their friend can join too, and when that person's friend joins, then their friend can join as well, and so on until you're talking to someone in Sri Lanka, but you know exactly how you connect to her, and you did it slowly because you were introduced to every person in between one by one until they got there.

I'm not sure where the profit is in this. Sure you could sell market data to corporations (which is surely what will happen once the major IM clients catch on to this... Actually, it should be very easy for them to compile this data already), and I doubt ads will really catch on in the chat rooms. I could imagine a project like this being sustained by donations, especially if you take most of the processing off of the servers and put it in to the client itself.

I think the crux of this idea is the chat room. This is something that can only be hinted at by a web site - constraints on who can post to what forum are arbitrary at best "only people connected to you by 2 or fewer people can see your posts," but because a chat room is temporally limited - i.e. only exists for a certain period of time, you can allow anyone in, just as long as they're connected to at least 1 person in the room. They're more likely to join in because they know someone in there, and it's fun for you, because you can see who connects to who easily.

One obvious constraint is "where will this chat room be hosted?" If it's on a sever, it would take a lot of horsepower for the server to run so many chat rooms, and that costs money. A Waste style distributed network could probably work quite nicely here. The messages would be carried along by the people who are actually in the chat room itself. The limitations on Waste (not designed to work with large groups) aren't that important because the entire network doesn't depend on it, just the chat room. The rest of the network just sits on top of regular old AIM or Yahoo or MSN or whatever. In fact, the chat messages can be carried along the traditional AIM network, but encoded so that the client knows that it's for the chat room and not a personal message. There's no worry that the client won't know what to do with it, because the only way a person can get in to the chat room is to have this client.

In my mind, this idea is so simple and obvious, I really wonder why nobody has implemented it already. I hope that it's not long before someone does this, and I hope they do it open-source because I'd much rather our social interactions be about creating bonds between people, and not about making money.

Confused about the teaser? It comes from Will & Grace, episode Bacon and Eggs.

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page first created on Wednesday, January 19, 2005

© Mark Wieczorek