Open API for online group-based services maintainance

Web: I’ve been doing a little thinking about group-based networking and services.

Here’s the situation. Let’s say you have a small group of people, and want to offer some kind of online service to them (like a private chat area, mailing list, etc. etc.) That’s all well and good, but maintainance of ‘who’s in the group’ is hard. You need:

  • the ability to let other ‘admins’ add/remove people
  • a nice UI for doing so
  • a nice UI for people to request to sign up
  • possibly, multiple groups
  • privacy for group members
  • possibly, some public groups
  • decent authentication, username/password
  • the usual stuff that goes with that — ‘I’ve forgotten my password, please email it to my listed address’
  • did I mention a nice UI?

The traditional approach is to code all that up myself, in my copious free time presumably. Urgh, talk about wheel reinvention on a massive scale.

I’d prefer to use something like TypeKey, a web service that exposes an API I can use to offload all this hard work to. Initially, I was in the ‘ugh, Typekey 0wnz my auth data’ camp, but I’ve eventually realised that (a) they’re not quite as evil as MS, (b) they’re not quite as stupid as MS (deleting Passport accounts if you don’t log in to Hotmail, which is only one of the supposedly many services, including third party services? hello?!), and (c) it’s actually really convenient having a single-sign-on for weblog commenting after all.

Having said all that — TypeKey’s out. Unfortunately, it only does authentication, without dealing with group maintainance.

However, social networking services are all about groups and group maintainance.

Running through the options — LinkedIn, Friendster and Orkut are all grabby and gropy and ‘my data! mine!’, so they’re out immediately.

The next step was to take a look at, which seems kind of nice and had a good rep for open APIs — but as far as I can see, all they’ve got really in that department is FOAF output, and a simple server-side-include thing called TribeCast. I could list all the group members in a FOAF file, but without authentication, that’s pretty useless since anyone could claim to be one of the FOAFs.

That leaves Flickr, which has a great set of APIs. Using that is looking quite promising. If you’re curious, I’ve gone into detail on this at the wiki.

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