Thank God for wifi. Stuck in transit for 7 hours in Malaysia, en route to London, the only thing standing between me and duty free insanity are a handful of RSS feeds. One of the more interesting ones was Marc Canter's social networking project - PeopleAggregator. Its a terrible brand name - but the underlying concept is right on the money.
Social networks and user generated content sites are spawning everywhere. One of the resulting problems is that users end up with dozens of randoms IDs, photo sets, blog comments and friends lists. Its like have ten different mobile phones, which ring occasionally with people who only have that one number in their address books.
Marc's utopian vision is to create a common identity platform, that lets consumers manage their networked identities and content across multiple networks. Its a big idea - for two reasons.
Firstly, I firmly agree with Marc that the future will see people fluidly moving between lots of smaller, focused networks which prove to be more efficient in connecting people with niche interests, or provide targeted market liquidity to sell certain kinds of goods and services.
The second reason is that it absolutely makes sense for consumers to centralise the way they choose to broadcast their identity, content, and commercial transactions. In the same way that many people register their own names as domains so that they can control what people find when they Google them - ultimately everyone is going to want a similar level of influence over all aspects of their digital personas.
At the moment, social hubs (whether it be MySpace, Flickr, eBay, FaceBook, Match.com) are trying to have their cake and eat it too. They own the marketplace (critical mass of buyers and sellers), and also your profile information. The more enlightened players provide open APIs to make their networks more transparent, but they are hardly open.
The question for Marc is whether his blatantly egalatarian approach will achieve enough critical mass to wean people from the current crop of fast growing networks. Although the cat may be out of the bag now - perhaps the best strategy for PeopleAggregator would have been to grow by stealth. Like IM provider Userplane, PeopleAggregator could have moved to power the existing players with various bolt on modules, that could eventually be scaled up into a default networking standard. It wouldn't be the first time that an industry giant was created by standing on the shoulders of another. After all - before it was a mega consumer brand Google started out by powering Yahoo Search.