Social Networking and Community 2.0 have both become critical parts of the web infrastructure, so it is perhaps not surprising that the W3C, keeper of all things web, is now weighing in on the topic. On January 15-16, 2009, the W3C will host the Workshop on the Future of Social Networking in Barcelona, Spain, where it will pull together vendors, project leaders, and social networking experts to explore the ramifications that social networking has for the web, and whether the W3C should establish a formal working group dealing with Social Networking related issues.
As with many recent W3C initiatives, much of this conference will be devoted to two key areas of W3C interest - how social networks interact with mobile devices, and how social networks work in the absence of an Internet connection (offline modalities). The conference papers, presented by mobile phone companies, consumer software vendors and academia, include such topics as establishing privacy and trust within social networks, looking at the implications of different distributed architectures, exploring which business models seem to be most effective and even raising what continues to be an elusive chimera, creating a common API for social networking sites.
The W3C's involvement in social networking is intriguing, in that it perhaps signals that the commercial era of social networks deployment, while still strong, is beginning to fade as the need for commonality of buddylists and personal identity standards, authentication across platforms and the opacity that many social networking sites have when viewed through mobile devices or when users are offline begin to affect many of the key operations on the web. Whether this conference will produce a significant consensus on either the creation of such standards or even the direction that the W3C should take still remains to be seen.