Open-source technologies facilitating social networks and applications

Introduction

Online social networks are in vogue this days. Facebook is the primordial example, its currently the biggest social network within our WEIRD society (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic). Probably benefiting from being a USA and California based company, Facebook is also the online social network that most captured attention from the media, we are even able to see the Hollywood movie “The Social Network”dedicated to it.

I am personally very critical on Facebook. I don’t like their limited privacy settings or their site upgrading policy. As most of us know, within Facebook we are not just the users, we are the product. Corporate brand marketers quickly discover that targeting advertising based personal profiles and correspondent social graph work quite well. In last two years we saw marketing communication budgets flowing from traditional media, search engines and portals to social networks.

Advertisement on the traditional mass-media broadcast systems (tv, radio, newspapers) work almost as SPAM, meaning that everyone is seeing the Barbie commercial even if few of us are potential Barbie buyers. Google and other search engines can segment their users based on what they type and search for, extremely powerful ! However, from the advertiser point-of-view, I believe that Facebook raised the bar: adds can be targeted based on what we are (your profile);  based on our network connections (friends, groups, likes); and also on what we type and search for (as in the Google competitor).

From the users point-of-view, I personally think that Facebook does pretty bad things for their users: We can’t really remain anonymous, our privacy settings might change with the constant site upgrades or they might even trace we on the web after logging-out from the Facebook Internet site.  I also express sympathy with some of my “older” female friends constantly being targeted with “big size cloths”adds. I am also not convinced by both the tattoo and dissertation writing services suggested by Facebook to me.

However, I am mentioning Facebook because I admire them on the two following points related with my research interests. First of all, they successfully implemented a platform-based strategy.  By this I mean that, from the most early stage, Facebook exposed publicly on the Internet an open and well documented Application Programming Interface (API) that allowed any 3rd party software developers to access Facebook social graph and developed the so called Facebook apps.  According a Facebook press release, there are now 7 million apps, mostly developed by 3rd parties, adding value to Facebook, it’s users and partner advertisers. Competitors that followed a product-based strategy and established tight control over their own system seam to have lost the game. The second think that I admire on Facebook, is how they took different open-source software packages, integrate them, code the system and launch it in just a few days. Today’s Facebook system is still on top of a stack of open-source technologies. For this blog, I am writing about this second and last admiration on Facebook and I will follow report my views on the role of open-source software in realizing social networks and application.

The social networking industry on the Internet

Social networking software, or at least something very similar to it, already exist for decads. The so called social networking Internet sites are a bit newer. However this king of software, where people expose their social relationships on networked computer-based systems, become very trendy strongly impacting both the Industry and the Academia at many levels. Commonly, people already refer to a social networking industry. The PC industry started long ago, the Internet industry is from my time.  Is the social networking industry the “big bang” industry of our youth generation ?

The following Figure, circulating on the Internet, illustrates how competitive the social networking industry is. Great news for its users, social networks platforms continue being developed and improved at a titanic pace, and its applications continue to pop-up. Not so good news for risk-averse investors, since there are so many competitive platforms on a market competing under network effects, the ones investing on the wrong player might lose everything. The quite noticed News Corporation controlled by Rupert Murdoch, sold on June 2011 the former social networking champion Myspace for $35 million after buying it six years before for $580 million, an  humiliating investment for the billionaire.

Unfortunately, Finland does not have any worldwide known or reputed social networking website. Hover there is some hope: I would like to mention http://www.heiaheia.com/ competing among a set of very competitive “social networked sports training diaries” players; of course the http://bambuser.com/ start-up here from Turku competing on “social video broadcasting”; and the Helsinki-based http://www.habbo.com/ implementing a social network for youngsters in the form a virtual hotel.

Investigating open-source technologies realizing social networks and applications

As previously mentioned, I am very interested on what role the open-source software phenomenon  plays as a enabler of the social networks and correspondent applications. A set of research question could be: Do social networking players use open-source software? Does the use of open-source bring competitive advantages to social network players? Are established social networks players using open-source software after the stat-up phase ? Do they contribute back to the open-source community (work up-stream)?

Thanks to some good contacts established thanks to Turku School of Economics, University of Oslo and University of Toronto, I already got some answers :).  However much more future research must be conducted to get a better and more rigorous understanding on how open-source technologies are realising social networks and its application. During past August, I was able to conduct short face-to-face conversations with employees from well know social network websites that I present in the  following list:

Guess I don’t need to present this one, everyone talks about it, USA-based.
The leading peer-assisted music streaming system, Sweden-based.
One of the most global social networks for the youth, Belgium-based.
One of the most promising social networks compliant with users-privacy and control, Greece-based.

The following table lists some of the open-source technologies used by the previous presented four players. I am aware that the table is for most of us a set of IT technicalities, however, after talking with employees from those well-known social networks,  I feel that this table is a important part of the recipe on how to very fast and with low capital costs implement something cool that everyone is talking about.

Technology function

Integrated open-source software packages

Client-side programing languages C, C++, Java
Server-side programing languages Python, Java, Scala, Ruby, PHP
Database/Persitence Mysql, ext3 file-system organic extensions
Server OS kernel Linux
Web server Apache, nginx, php-fpm, HipHop

Load Balancer

http://haproxy.1wt.eu/
Object cache http://memcached.org/, jemalloc
Search and indexing Ubersearch, Unicorn, sphinxsearch.com/
Configuration Management http://puppetlabs.com/
Process orchestration gearman.org, cron
Network monitoring zabbix.org/
Backup systems bacula.org/
Version control CVS, SVN, GIT
Statistics/BI/DW hadoop.apache.org, hbase.apache.org, HIVE, Sqlite
Testing phpunit, seleniumhq.org/, jenkins-ci.org/

I would conclude arguing that open-source plays a very important role in innovation. On our multiple-case studies, it lowered the entrance barriers for start-ups that are now recognised as global and innovative. It’s however sad to see government initiatives aimed at protecting the business interests of the old and established traditional engineering houses. For instance, in Finland, regulatory requirements in health-care completely nulls possibilities for open-source medical software startups.  Innovation on Finnish health-care IT systems seams to be only allowed if it comes from Tieto, Logica, IBM, SAP, GE among other few giants.

__END__ … Continues in a next episode !!!

About the author:

Jose Teixeira is currently a doctoral student at the Information Systems Science department of Turku University. He worked and studied across many EU member states. He studied in Oporto University, IAE Aix-en-Provence, Turku School of Economics and Tilburg University, studying topics on computer science, information systems, management and economics. He also worked in the Industry for reputable companies such as Wipro, Tesco and Nokia. His research addresses the open-source software phenomenon from different economical point-of-views.

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About jaateixeira

Jose Teixeira is currently a doctoral candidate at the Information Systems Science department of Turku University. He worked and studied across many EU member states. He studied in Oporto University, IAE Aix-en-Provence, Turku School of Economics and Tilburg University, studying topics on computer science, information systems, management and economics. He also worked in the Industry for reputable companies such as Wipro, Tesco and Nokia. His research addresses the open-source software phenomenon from different economical point-of-views. More information on the researcher and its academic activities can be found at www.jteixeira.eu

2 thoughts on “Open-source technologies facilitating social networks and applications

  1. Very very interesting research questions! I think xihalife.com is also Finnish-based (Helsinki) socnetwork platform. Looking forward to the next episodes 🙂

    • Thank you Slavica for letting me know more about XIHA Life. This social network is really quite unique in certain points:

      Is the most multilingual social network ever seen.
      It’s cashed by a big Chinese investor.
      Operates from California, Switzerland, and Finland.

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