Could Plexus Help Deliver a Knockout Punch to Facebook?

Love 'em or loathe 'em, social networks are not going to go away in the foreseeable future. Which leaves many of us with the problem of trying to keep up with multiple services - to say nothing of the privacy issues they raise. Clearly, what we...

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Love 'em or loathe 'em, social networks are not going to go away in the foreseeable future. Which leaves many of us with the problem of trying to keep up with multiple services – to say nothing of the privacy issues they raise. Clearly, what we need is some central program that just deals with them in both directions (incoming and outgoing) - oh, and make open source, too, please. How about this?

Plexus is the Personal * Portable * Private social graph which both listens to and shares your social message stream.

Plexus is a free and open source software 'switchboard' which handles all of your social networking needs.

In May 2010, when I announced my decision to ‘quit' Facebook – because of a number of concerns ranging from privacy to duty of care – I created a Posterous account, so that I could continue to share media with my friends. What I found, repeatedly, was that my Facebook connections objected to having to go somewhere else to ‘check' some other data source to stay in touch with their friends. Facebook provides a centralized way to keep track of everyone's comings and goings – and as more people join Facebook, the ‘network effect' grows, and that list of comings and goings becomes longer and more potent.

The important thing is the meeting point – the plexus – that brings someone together with everyone they're trying to keep track of. This function is performed by Facebook – to a certain degree. What we all really need is a generalized and open solution to this problem, one which is personal, private and portable, so it can go anywhere we go, and be fit precisely to our particular needs.

This is the problem that Plexus solves, a problem we didn't even know we had until just a few months ago, when the number of sources of social information suddenly exploded. It's not just Facebook, but Twitter and Flickr and Foursquare and LinkedIn and Delicious and Posterous and Wordpress and LiveJournal and on and on and on. People are coming up with great ideas for social sharing every day. We need a way to manage that. Plexus does.

The person behind Plexus, Mark Pesce, has written a long and interesting post about the background to the project. Here are some of its closing thoughts:

Reflect back on March of 2000. Napster, the centralized filesharing network, had recently be shut down by court order. A different crew created a decentralized filesharing tool, known as Gnutella, releasing both the tool and the source code to the world on March 14th. When AOL/TimeWarner – parent company of the folks who wrote Gnutella – found out about and put a stop to the source code release, it was too late. It couldn't be recalled. The bomb couldn't be un-invented. The music industry is more authentic than it was a decade ago, more open to innovation, to outsiders, to diversity and heterogenetity. All because a few hackers decided to change the way people share their music.

History never repeats, but it does rhyme. We share everything now; we worry that we overshare. Now it's time to take our sharing to the next level. We need a social2.0, something that reflects what we've learned in the past half-dozen years. That's not just a slew of new services. That's an attitude change.

It's very early days, but if it takes off, Plexus will have a very interesting side effect. Imagine using it to manage Facebook, say, and then adding the free software replacement Diaspora (assuming it delivers on its promises) too. As the people you follow start to shift across from Facebook to Diaspora (well, I can dream, right?), you would see...precisely nothing, since Plexus would effectively act as a compatibility layer to different social networks, insulating you from the details. As such, it could be a powerful ally to free software networks like identi.ca and Diaspora, helping them replace less open ones like Facebook in a way that is invisible to user, and also painless. Another reason to hope it gains some momentum.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or identi.ca.

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