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November 28, 2008

SWORD Facebook application & "social deposit"

Last week, Stuart Lewis of Aberystwyth University announced the availability of his Facebook repository deposit application, which makes use of the SWORD AtomPub profile. Stuart's post appeared just a day before a post by Les Carr in which he includes a presentation on "leveraging" the value of items once they are in a repository, by providing "feeds" of various flavours and/or supporting the embedding of deposited items in other externally-created items.

Stuart describes the SWORD Facebook application as enabling what he calls "social deposit":

Being able to deposit from within a site such as Facebook would enable what I’m going to call the Social Deposit. What does a social deposit look like? Well, it has the following characteristics:

  • It takes place within a social networking type site such as Facebook.
  • The deposit is performed by the author of a work, not a third party.
  • Once the deposit has taken place, messages and updates are provided stating that the user has performed the deposit.
  • Friends and colleagues of the depositor will see that a deposit has taken place, and can read what has been deposited if they want to.
  • Friends and colleagues of the depositor can comment on the deposit.

So the social deposit takes place within the online social surroundings of a depositor, rather than from within a repository. By doing so, the depositor can leverage the power of their social networks so that their friends and colleagues can be informed about the deposit.

It occurred to me it would be interesting to compare the approach Stuart has taken in the SWORD Facebook app with the approach taken in "deposit" tools typically used with - highly "social" - "repositories" like Flickr (e.g. the Flickr Uploadr client) or the approach sometimes used with weblogs (e.g. blogging clients like Windows Live Writer).

The actions of posting images to my Flickr collection or posting entries to my weblog are both "deposit" actions to my "repositories". As a result of that "deposit", the availability of my newly deposited resources - my images, my weblog posts - is "notified" - either through some mechanism internal to the target system, or (as Les's presentation illustrates) through approaches based on feeds "out of" the repository - to members of my various "social network(s)":

  • my "internal-to-Flickr" network of Flickr contacts;
  • the network of people who aren't my Flickr contact but subscribe to my personal Flickr feed, or to tag-based or group-based Flickr feeds I add to;
  • the network of people who subscribe to my weblog feed, or to one of my pull-my-stuff-together aggregation feeds.

And so on....

The point I wanted to highlight here is - as Stuart notes above - that the "social" aspect isn't directly associated with the "deposit" action: the Flickr uploader (AFAIK) doesn't interact with my Flickr contact list to ping my contacts; Windows Live Writer doesn't know anything about who out there in the blogosphere has subscribed to my weblog. Using these tools, deposit itself is an "individual" rather than a "social" action, if you like. Rather, the social aspect is supported from the "output"/"publication" features of the repository.

In contrast, if I understand Stuart's description of the Facebook deposit app correctly, the "social" dimension here is based on the context of the "deposit" action. Here, the "deposit" tool - Stuart's Fb app - is "socially aware", in the sense that it, rather than the target repository, is responsible for creating notifications in a feed - and the readership of that feed is shaped by the context of the deposit action rather than by the context of "publication": it's my network of Fb friends who see the notifications, not my network of Flickr contacts.

Though of course it may be that the repository I target using the Fb deposit app also enables all the sort of personal-/tag-/group-based output feed functionality I describe above for the Flickr/weblog cases. And I may well take my personal repository feed and "pipe it in to" a social network service - if I still bothered with Facebook (I don't, but that's another story!), I might be using a Flickr Fb app or a weblog app to add notifications to my Fb news feed! So these scenarios aren't exclusive, by any means.

I'm not sure I have any real conclusions here, tbh, and just to be clear, I certainly don't mean to sound negative about the development. Quite the contrary, it provides a very vivid example of how the different aspects of repository use can straddle different application contexts and how the SWORD protocol can be deployed within those different contexts. I think it also provides an illustration of Paul Walk's point about separating out some of our repository concerns (though I note that Paul's model does see the "source repository" as a provider of feeds).

It's certainly worth exploring the different dimensions of the "sociality" of the two approaches.I guess I'm arguing that (to me) "social deposit" isn't a substitute for the socialness that comes with the sort of "output" features Les describes - but it may well turn out to be a useful complement.


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The posts of Carr and Lewis also seem to play out the Parable of the Elephant -- AtomPub being the elephant.


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