Social networks are all the rage these days, Friendster has so much VC that they’ve probably got "a solid-gold trash can, burning cash 24/7." The biggest thing going for social networks right now is also the smallest: FOAF.
Unlike other centralized social networking systems FOAF is as distributed as the blogosphere. There are centralized sites and tools to manage them, but ultimately the files reside in your control. Aside from social networking, FOAF files can be used to mediate your persona online, displaying user icons and user profiles in a distributed form.
But now there’s something new in the works, XFN. Like the XFL, it has considerable differences from FOAF. It works inside XHTML, meaning that it can be embedded inside weblogs. Simply add a rel="friend met"-like attribute inside the <a> tag. The popular use case right now is embedding it in blogrolls, but by popular I mean 5 sites.
What I don’t see are any tools to digest the data. While the format is interesting and doesn’t require the low barrier to entry of FOAF, the data doesn’t say anything unless you use telnet as your web browser. While they can coexist, I see a format war coming up and the one with the best tools is going to win.
[Update: Leigh Dodds has an excellent examination of FOAF and XFN on his weblog]

One response to “XFN vs. FOAF”

  1. bryce says:

    I like the comparison to the XFL. Also, the jab at the “popularity” of XFN is funny.
    Leigh does a great job of recognizing the pros and cons of XFN. Although the tools and technology for using FOAF and other metadata are still in infancy, they will arise as the standards are hammered out.
    Look at the CSS standard. After all these years (an aeon in Internet-time) the masses are only just now awakening to the possibilities that it brings (hey world: it’s more than just changing the link color on the hover state). Interesting implementations and usable tools (with a dose of evangelizing) are introducing the revolution.
    Part of the FOAF spec is lighthearted, but the work itself is serious. XFN seems to me to be more like a fashionable trend.
    But it never hurts to look at things from a different perspective and a little good-natured competition may be good for everyone.

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