After taking a look at Geni, it suddenly hit me that mapping out a user's known connections is very important. While services like Facebook and MySpace focus on the facilitation of "fake friends", I think it's very important to define a user's real social network.
How can this be done? With the use of existing data -- very primitive social networks like e-mail and IM "buddylists". The vast majority of people on the internet have an e-mail address and use it to communicate with their friends and family. For those that do not, they most likely use AIM. The data flow doesn't stop there, either. Most people are willing to trust someone that lives geographically close (i.e. a few doors down) than some random person 200 miles away.
I would really like to map out everyone's real social network using this primitive data. The barrier would have to be really low -- no user registration, very little information, and input as simple as possible. For example, I would simply input my e-mail address and name, and then input my mom's e-mail address and her name. That's it -- I'm mapped with my first connection - my mom. An e-mail then goes to her asking if she knows me... If she does, then it's a mutual connection. If she doesn't (or she doesn't respond), she's still listed as my connection, but it's a one-way.
In the future, it might be possible to mine user connections. For example, if I input my address, my geographical neighbors would be mapped in the database as "neighbors". Going a step further, if people begin to use meta-data as theorized for the "semantic web", you would be able to define connections by your interactions on other services or websites. For example, I interact with a ton of people in blogs... They would be more familiar to me than someone that I've never come across (although, the trust level would certainly be lower than immediate friends and family).
The concept isn't really a service at all, but rather a database of connections. I hate to use the term "social networking" because there really isn't any "working" going on at user level. Don't be fooled, however. There are many extremely valuable uses for such a database:
- User Trust Algorithm -- This could be used when no other metric is available. A user would simple input their e-mail address into the widget and see how they are connected with the user. Obviously a user in the 6th degree has more trust than someone in the 10th degree, but it doesn't stop there. If a user has lots of mutual connections several degrees out, then they are a trusted user. If they are simply an isolated node in shadowy corner, then they aren't that trusted.
- Intelligent E-mail -- This is pretty similar to the above. If people send you e-mail, it would get a rating dependent on how close a connection is. Spammers are very unlikely to be within your first several degrees (or have any meaningful mutual connections beyond on the second degree, for that matter).
- Data Sharing -- With a web built around trust, buying and selling would be safer, distributing information would be easier, etc..