What Is A Social Browser?

  Originally uploaded by k.james.

I’ve been trying to digest the news that Firefox is going to add social functionality into their browser via a project called The Coop.

My initial reaction was "this is going to be great. Now I don’t have to maintain all these social networks, Firefox will do it all for me". But alas, it’s not that simple.

As I understand it, initially the functionality will be limited to creating a profile in the browser, allowing others to see when you are online (like AIM and Skype), being able to share URLs and publish feeds (like Flickr, Facebook, delicious, etc) to others.

That’s a pretty nice set of features but it doesn’t really address the fact that I’ve got all these profiles all over the web that in their totality represent me and I’d love to have one single profile that aggregates all of this activity and presents it in one single place.

Since I use Firefox almost exclusively, it’s in a great position to do this for me. It can see all of my activity, capture all of it, and present it. But there’s one obvious problem; not everyone uses Firefox. So unless all of the browsers adopted an open profile standard and all of them built social networking into the browser, the only people who will be able to participate in my social web are others who use Firefox.

It’s probably easier to build this meta social profile as a web service and there are a host of companies trying to do just that. That approach requires that the social networks all cooperate with each other and share data. Given that the dominant social nets like MySpace and Facebook aren’t exactly jumping up and down to do this, I am not sure the web services approach will happen so easily either.

It’s client versus server. Client software benefits from its ability to see everything I do, but suffers from the fact that not everyone uses the same software I do. Server based software can’t see everything I do as easily, but can achieve ubiquity (or get a lot closer to ubiquity).

Even though the social browser Firefox is building isn’t exactly what I want, I am excited to get social features in my browser and it’s telling that Firefox is going to get their first again.