Wanderli.st - An Introduction

wanderli.st — wander the internet, bring your friends

I have 787 friends on Facebook. On Twitter I am following 216 people and am being followed be 285 people. I have 1,190 cards in Address Book, all of which are synced with my Google Contacts and my iPhone. I have 49 friends on Foursquare, 33 connections on LinkedIn, 18 friends on Goodreads, 8 contacts on Flickr, 1 contact on Vimeo, 0 friends on Yelp, and 146 buddies on AOL Instant Messenger.

If I want to sign up for some new website, it’s not at all easy to re-use these existing relationships: I can go through and add people individually; I can ignore the security risk, enter my Gmail login information, and selectively choose which (or all) of my 1,190 Google Contacts need an email invitation to the website; I might be able to connect with my Twitter account, but the nature of the information shared on Twitter results in the people I’m following being a strange subset of my social graph; I might be able to connect with my Facebook account, but I rarely want to publish a summary of my activity on the new site in the news feed of every single person I know on Facebook.

My social life on the Internet is somewhat of a mess, and it’s becoming increasingly unmanaged and unmanageable. Social networking websites are not going away, and I want better tools to consolidate and manage these myriad representations of my real-world relationships as I wander the Internet…

(photo of me at the xkcd book party by insunlight on Flickr | CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wanderli.st will be my attempt to solve this problem. I want to take my existing friendships and relationships with me wherever I go on the Internet. I want more powerful tools for managing my contacts, I want this private information to sync with a giant social graph in the cloud, and I want websites to access subsections of this social graph based on the permissions I grant them.

More specifically, I want Wanderli.st to help me organize everyone I’ve ever met using a simple system of custom tags (‘ITP classmates’, ‘bit.ly coworkers’, ‘Scala programmers’, ‘SXSW 2010’, etc.) and lists that are combinations of these tags (‘all of my family and photography friends, but none of my ex-girlfriends’), and then let me use those lists to automatically specify my relationships on social websites. I want an intuitive yet powerful address book application with standard fields for phone numbers and mailing addresses but also with dynamic fields for usernames on social websites. I don’t want Wanderli.st to bother with actual content — let other websites specialize in the sharing of photographs, videos, status updates, long blog posts, short blog posts, and restaurant reviews — Wanderli.st can simply be a social graph provider.

I want my social data to be device- and website-independent, and I want to be able to export all of it to a standardized XML file. But I also don’t want to worry constantly about importing and exporting, and instead I want to be able to make one change in one place whenever I make a new friend, and I want that change to be pushed automatically to all of the applicable social networks.

I’d like to be able to sign up for a new social photography website, assign that site a list (i.e. some combination of tags), and then have the option of inviting friends to that website based on some other combination of tags (perhaps I have a tag named ‘people it is okay to invite to random websites’). If I make a new friend who is interested in photography, then I want it to be sufficient for us to only have a) exchanged email addresses and b) associated our usernames on various photography websites with our Wanderli.st accounts — it will then seamlessly create our connection on those websites and automatically add those usernames to each other’s personal address books, with no “Steven has added you as a friend on Flickr” emails required.

I want to have the option of managing my privacy simply and intuitively at the level of the website, and not at the level of the individual piece of content: you can see the pictures of me drinking in college if we are friends on the site on which they are posted, but if I don’t want you to see them then I simply won’t be your friend on that site, and I can use a second site (or second account on that same site!) to share my other pictures with you.

Wanderli.st will also make it easier for me to move among social websites. Both established and fledgling websites will benefit from this because it will be easier for them acquire new users and provide existing users with the best possible social experience. Furthermore, there have been mass diasporas of users in the past as people have moved on from Friendster and MySpace, and I predict Facebook faces a similar future (more on this in a future blog post). I’m willing to re-create my social network only one more time after I’m ready to move on from where I am now (and Facebook still won’t let me export my data), but after that I want my data to be open and portable and mine so that I never have to re-friend a thousand people again.

I also intend to make Wanderli.st my ITP thesis. I have been thinking about the project for several months, and wrote up and presented an early draft of the idea in Kio Stark’s When Strangers Meet class last Spring. I think that Wanderli.st should be compatible and complimentary with existing standards and upcoming proposals (OpenSocial, Portable Contacts, WebFinger, etc.), but I think it is important that the project be a new site in and of itself that hosts the data and popularizes the platform through actual successful use cases.

I’ve read that the best software is made by people who are building the tools for themselves, and I’m excited to create Wanderli.st and improve how I socialize on the Internet. If what I’ve described here sounds like something you’d like to use as well, comment below — I’ll let you know when it’s ready for beta testing.