The Rise of the Social Operating System

July 19th, 2007

In recent months we have witnessed a number of social networking sites begin to open up their platforms to outside developers. While this trend has been exhibited most prominently by Facebook, it is being embraced by all the leading social networking services, such as Plaxo, LinkedIn, Myspace and others. Along separate dimensions we also see a similar trend towards "platformization" in IM platforms such as Skype as well as B2B tools such as

If we zoom out and look at all this activity from a distance it appears that there is a race taking place to become "the social operating" system of the Web. A social operating system might be defined as a system that provides for systematic management and facilitation of human social relationships and interactions.

We might list some of the key capabilities of an ideal "social operating system" as:

  • Identity management
    • Open portable identity
    • Personal profiles ("personas")
    • Privacy control
  • Relationship management
    • Directory and lookup services (location of people to communicate with)
    • Social networking (opt-in relationship formation, indirect social connectivity via social networks)
    • Spam control
  • Communication
    • Person to person communication
      • Synchronous (IM, VOIP)
      • Asynchronous (email, SMS)
    • Group communication
      • Synchronous (conferencing)
      • Asynchronous (group discussions)
  • Social Content distribution
    • Personal publishing (blogging, home pages)
    • Public content distribution
  • Social Coordination
    • Event management (scheduling, invitations, RSVP’s)
    • Calendaring
  • Social Collaboration
    • File sharing
    • Document collaboration (communal authoring/editing)
    • Collaborative filtering
    • Recommendation systems
    • Knowledge management
    • Human powered search
    • Project management
    • Workflow
  • Commerce
    • Classified advertising
    • Auctions
    • Shopping

Today I have not seen any single player that provides a coherent solution to this entire "social stack" however Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL are probably the strongest contenders. Can Facebook and other social networks truly compete or will they ultimately be absorbed into one of these larger players?