June 08, 2011

Cliqset Cofounder Preps Distributed Social Platform Glow

For those who believe strongly in a future of federated social networking, not owned by the large Web brands, the perceived lack of success from existing social projects, including Diaspora, Status.net and others has been extremely frustrating. Darren Bounds, cofounder of the ahead of its time social Web pioneer Cliqset, aims to do something about it, working hard on his second act, called Glow, a distributed social infrastructure aimed at closing the usability and feature gaps in today's federated systems. The launch of this new system is only a few weeks away.

As he describes it, federated protocols and standards often get in the way of building a pleasant user experience, which makes supporting important features like global people discovery, global content search and anti-spam practically impossible, as no information exists in a single place that's easily analyzed. The goal of Glow is to deliver a distributed alternative to Twitter or Facebook, while still delivering full support of their feature set, with no sacrifice to the user experience, while still keeping data ownership in their hands.

An Early Glow Instance With Sharing, Photos, Comments

Glow looks much like existing platforms, from FriendFeed to Facebook and Twitter, consisting of aggregate network activity, status updates, and nested comments. When creating content, users are able to organize their followers into a number of predefined groups, and you can dictate which group will receive it, keeping the content private to only those on the intended recipient list, unlike Twitter's all public or all private approach, and more similar to Facebook's select distribution and lists, which have proven difficult for most users.

A Private Group Message on Glow With 3 People

At launch, Glow will offer a centralized option, as well as the opportunity for you to launch your own dedicated node, the equivalent of running your own single user copy of Twitter that looked and felt just like it does on Twitter.com, with the same users and experience.

From a feature perspective, Glow will support all the features of a modern social network, with the usual status updates, photo and video sharing, implementing the "follow" model, along with likes, mentions and comments. Additionally, the service is location-aware, which brings forward its own opportunities. What it does not do is aggregate content, a hallmark of Cliqset and other sites, like FriendFeed.

"Glow is an attempt get us a few steps closer by created a system that behaves as users have come to expect while increasing privacy and user control in the process," Darren wrote me in an e-mail. "Glow itself is not a federated system, it is a hybrid architecture combining aspects of centralization with that of decentralization."

True to Darren's background, which featured early implementation of Web standards like Pubsubhubbub and Salmon with his Cliqset effort, Glow will come with a robust API for developers to create applications on to, assuming user authorization. One example Darren gives is the option for users to provide access to their data in exchange for more personalized advertisements (which we've discussed often).

While Darren says Glow itself is not a federated system, those looking to set up their own Glow nodes can do so - much like Status.net, giving them full and complete control over the content. Glow is heavily tied to the Amazon cloud, helping keep costs free to users and low to Darren.

"Basically, if Twitter and Facebook had a great looking and highly intelligent child together who grew up to solve world hunger, it would be Glow," jokes Darren, who says that the product is still in the realm of personal experiment, more than an actual business. The project is being completely self-built, and Bounds hasn't yet taken any funding.

While Status.net and Diaspora have made new in the past for their approach, most federated systems have put technology ahead of the user experience, and have suffered in adoption. Glow is hoping to achieve the benefits of federation without sacrifice of technology features or user experience.

"I've taken many of the best features of Facebook and Twitter and combined them with some of my own special sauce," Darren says, "The result is a reinvention of social network architecture with none of the user complexity of systems that have come before."

A Simple Nested Comment Stream With Option to Like or Delete

In future enhancements, after initial launch, Glow content will be organized into two types - user content and publisher content. Its architecture ensures that user content is created by people and not bots, and a publisher marketplace is being designed so organizations can push content and build community. Publishers will be organized much like Apple's App store, with categories and featured communities.

Darren is nothing if not ambitious. Cliqset, while it didn't attract massive the massive user base it deserved for all the work put into it and pioneering of leading-edge technologies, was always well respected for its forward thinking. Glow, marinating at http://glow.io, should be just as forward thinking, but instead of pushing people into a single domain, it's allows people to create their own instance, run it anywhere and own their own data. It's all about putting the power of social networking back in the users' hands, with real privacy controls and simplicity.