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Sharing Activity Streams on the Social Web

Chris Messina and I have been jumping around the country over the past week speaking at FOWA in Miami, TransparencyCamp this weekend in DC and then I spoke at Webstock in New Zealand the week before. All three are absolutely wonderful events and I really want to personally thank the Webstock team and FOWA team for making me feel so welcome! Anyways, Activity Streams is a project started late last year designed to add context to "social feeds" in a very simple way. Martin Atkins has been leading the effort of writing the specifications (Atom Activity Extensions and Atom Activity Base Schema) and we're finally getting to a point where it can be deployed like a beta.

I was using FriendFeed a few days ago and came across an excellent example of why this project is so important. Today, FriendFeed writes custom parsing code for about sixty different services across the social web in order to understand the feeds that each service produces. This means that if I'm using a service that FriendFeed knows about – like Disqus – it works really well. Then again, for services they haven't taken the time to write parsing code for – like TypePad Connect – it doesn't work so well. While I'm certain that FriendFeed could easily write additional code to understand TypePad's feeds, as more social web sites are created it will become increasingly difficult for FriendFeed to keep up with every new service, let alone blogger.

While FriendFeed can certainly keep coding support for new services, it isn't a sustainable proposition for the decentralized nature of the social web. If TypePad published my commenting feeds using Activity Streams markup (which the TypePad team plans to do) and then if FriendFeed parsed the Activity Streams markup, this would have automatically worked! No custom code from FriendFeed and a little bit of extra code for TypePad. Now that's a decentralized social web!