"What I would value most from GNU is an effort to make sure the supporting software libraries for standards-based social Web interop are solid, tested and up to date, and that they are integrated throughout the GNU collection of software packages and the wider software scene. Why doesn't Mailman do oauth or openid? Why even today do my attempts to use my lhttps://mail.google.com/a/danbri.org/#inbox/1272674a65026194ocal Wordpress's openid provision to log into my locally installed MediaWiki often fail? GNU's reputation is in worldclass free software; I'd suggest sticking close to that and focussing on asking ourselves what we can do to take this massive network of free software installations, and integrate them to improve people's social experience of the Web. "
"We already have 'social networks' scattered across the entire Internet/Web, and this is as it should be. The challenge isn't to move them all to one giant replacement service or network, but to patch them together, the way the Internet itself was patched together from its constituent ancestors. Take IRC for example: the popular Freenode IRC network is apparently powered by GNU software including its ircd, http://dev.freenode.net/ircd-seven ... http://freenode.net/development.shtml ... now thousands of people happily use IRC daily to socialise, share and communicate. Thousands of others use GNU Mailman to do similar in email. Let's not get distracted by the impossible dream of cloning the facebook experience in a 'free' way, when we have real vibrant online communities already, thanks to GNU software. I look to the GNU Social initiative not to add just another software package to the mix, but to take a lead - by workshops, evangelism, free beers, code reviews, whatever it takes - in getting more integration and standards support across the existing suite of GNU social software. Why can't we better integrate the IRC community on Freenode with the network of mailman installations out there? Work on XMPP support in ircd to modernise the underlying standards, or integrate IRC's notion of user identity (nickserv) with that of the Web? "
I wrote that back in March, and at the time it seemed that GNU Social was heading strongly towards making yet another PHP-based Web thingy for people to hang out in, rather than attempting the 'bigger picture' of global integration that I was hoping for.
At the time I tried arguing that GNU's strength isn't that; there are already thousands upon thousands of lines of 'social' code out there in daily use. What's needed now is integration, coherence and usability. I believe this can be built by making careful use of existing protocols and standards (RSS/Atom, Activity Streams, OpenID/Oauth, FOAF, XMPP, OpenSocial, RDFa/Microformats), OStatus, GPG ...
It sounds like this project is now moving more in that direction, although talk of "a protocol" worries me. When we're talking on this scale (the entire Web) it's probably worth stepping back and figuring out what we're trying to write a protocol to do, before leaping in and doing it. I hope the first drafts to come out of the inner circle attempt to set some kind of scope first, rather than jumping straight in with protocol design for an undocumented problem.