A Social Profile Updater

I am a member of way too many online services.  You probably are too.  There’s Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Posterous, Brazen Careerist, Delicious, Squidoo, Ning, WordPress.com – and those are just the ones that I use at least once a month.  I’ve also got placeholder accounts set up at a variety of services in case I ever want to use them.

Even if I never log in, I still have profiles.  And if I want to do something like change my picture, I have to log in to each and every one to do so.  Granted, I can use Facebook Connect and Twitter OAuth to log in on many sites, which ties my profiles to just two places.  But not every place supports those services, and even if they do, chances are the profiles ask for different information.  On Twitter, I have 160 characters and a URL to describe myself.  On Facebook, I have as much room as I want to use.  And  what if I want to use different elements of each profile?  Maybe I want to include my favorite books from Facebook and my educational background from LinkedIn.  I can’t think of an easy way to do that right now.

I want to build a way to manage my entire identity online.  This is the idea behind OpenID I suppose.  But I want to build the reverse.  Even if I have one set of credentials to log in everywhere, I still have 18 different profiles (I just made that number up, but you get the idea).  What I want to build is kind of a modular system where you input all of your information that you’d ever want to share.  Then you provide the system with your login information and check off what you want your profile to say where.  Every time you update the modules, this updater propagates the changes to all of the other services you interact with.  So it’ll no longer take you a half a day to update your picture and bio on all of your profiles – you do it once and the system does the rest.  The closest analogy I have it that it’s like Ping.fm, but for profiles.

Now I know it’s a bit silly to be sharing this on my blog.  What I should do is go find an engineer or two, build this, find funding, and launch it.  By posting it here, I’m letting this idea out into the wild where others can create it without having any obligation to me.  That’s a risk I’m willing to take because, well, I honestly have no idea if I could get this thing off the ground.  For that matter, it may already exist.  Or it could violate the TOS of any of the websites that it would update.

While I figure that all out, what do you think? Would you use this updater? What am I missing? I’d love to get some feedback.

  • I guess the first question would be, do these services have a mechanism for updating your profile remotely?

    The other question involved is how different are field names for for the same thing across services? A case in point, I use a service called Last Pass. Primarily, it is a password repository that allows you to save all your usernames/passwords to different sites and not have to remember all of them. It has the additional feature of filling out forms. The problems with this feature are 1) it misses every drop down box except for state, and sometimes misses that one and 2) it occasionally misses fields or fills in wrong information in a field because it misunderstands what the site wants. Lazy developer leave a field as “Field 1”? Not getting filled in. Label a field for username as name? LastPass will enter Edward Antrobus.

    The reason Facebook Connect and OpenID work (where they work), is because developers have agreed to name certain fields according to what the APIs dictate. I think for this idea to work correctly, you'd have to create a new API and get the developers for Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc to sign on for it. And if you could get a few of the big ones signed on, that would probably pave the way for a lot of the smaller services to utilize it, also.

  • I guess the first question would be, do these services have a mechanism for updating your profile remotely?nnThe other question involved is how different are field names for for the same thing across services? A case in point, I use a service called Last Pass. Primarily, it is a password repository that allows you to save all your usernames/passwords to different sites and not have to remember all of them. It has the additional feature of filling out forms. The problems with this feature are 1) it misses every drop down box except for state, and sometimes misses that one and 2) it occasionally misses fields or fills in wrong information in a field because it misunderstands what the site wants. Lazy developer leave a field as “Field 1”? Not getting filled in. Label a field for username as name? LastPass will enter Edward Antrobus.nnThe reason Facebook Connect and OpenID work (where they work), is because developers have agreed to name certain fields according to what the APIs dictate. I think for this idea to work correctly, you’d have to create a new API and get the developers for Facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, etc to sign on for it. And if you could get a few of the big ones signed on, that would probably pave the way for a lot of the smaller services to utilize it, also.n

  • Thank you for the comment Edward.

    I hadn't heard of Last Pass before, although I have tried out 1Passwrd, which is a similar service. I don't really think of them as similar to what I'm proposing, as the vision I have isn't really an autofill service. Instead, it's a master control panel for profile information.

    I think this could be accomplished as is by developing an application that uses the existing APIs of the services it would integrate with (assuming they have API fields for these items). Instead of replacing the fields already created, the fields could be identified and manually linked to the appropriate modules. This would eliminate the issue you've described above as a human would vet each field for major services. I do agree that an API would be useful for implementation on new websites, but that's may be starting to move towards a Facebook Connect/Twitter OAuth kind of service.

    It might help to consider this service as active rather than passive; instead of profiles updating automatically when you change the modules, you'd have to hit the send button to change information. That should get around having external services having to check for updates (the analogy is fetch versus push e-mail).

    Of course, none of this answers your original question, which is whether or not these services will let you update your profile remotely. I know that Twitter has its geolocation API, which is technically part of the profile. But I don't know if any of them allow for remote profile updates beyond status streams. That's what I'd need an engineer for. 🙂

  • Jed,

    The point I was trying to make with LastPass was the idea of the trouble with a computer identifying what a service is actually asking for. Manually vetting each field gets around that problem, although it is a lot of work (and leads to rather kludged together code). I hadn't even considered the idea of passive updating. It never even crossed my mind that that sort of thing could even be possible.

    I imagine it would be possible, if a profile could not be updated remotely, that the service could load the website into some sort of virtual browser and automatically tab between fields. Don't ask me how that's done; I don't have a clue. But I do think such a thing is possible.

    I do know a guy (Nick Armstrong – http://www.iamnickarmstrong.com) who used to be a programmer before he stuck out on his own doing marketing, especially with social networking. I'll talk to him and see what he thinks.

  • Not being a programmer myself, I don't know what would be involved. I have seen executions of the virtual browser concept (see the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine for an example), although I don't know what it takes behind the scenes.

    Although now that I think about it, the fact that Facebook has tried to ban the suicide machine tells me that this kind of service is probably against their TOS.

    I'm just guessing here, but I imagine that setting up one mechanism to update a form could be established along side a relational database that says turn module one into field x on website y. Then the program could just move along the database matching the modules to existing content and making changes as appropriate.

    Now that I think about it, this is basically an extremely complicated cross-platform implementation of the find and replace function in most word processing software.

  • Thank you for the comment Edward.nnI hadn’t heard of Last Pass before, although I have tried out 1Passwrd, which is a similar service. I don’t really think of them as similar to what I’m proposing, as the vision I have isn’t really an autofill service. Instead, it’s a master control panel for profile information.nnI think this could be accomplished as is by developing an application that uses the existing APIs of the services it would integrate with (assuming they have API fields for these items). Instead of replacing the fields already created, the fields could be identified and manually linked to the appropriate modules. This would eliminate the issue you’ve described above as a human would vet each field for major services. I do agree that an API would be useful for implementation on new websites, but that’s may be starting to move towards a Facebook Connect/Twitter OAuth kind of service.nnIt might help to consider this service as active rather than passive; instead of profiles updating automatically when you change the modules, you’d have to hit the send button to change information. That should get around having external services having to check for updates (the analogy is fetch versus push e-mail).nnOf course, none of this answers your original question, which is whether or not these services will let you update your profile remotely. I know that Twitter has its geolocation API, which is technically part of the profile. But I don’t know if any of them allow for remote profile updates beyond status streams. That’s what I’d need an engineer for. 🙂

  • Jed,nnThe point I was trying to make with LastPass was the idea of the trouble with a computer identifying what a service is actually asking for. Manually vetting each field gets around that problem, although it is a lot of work (and leads to rather kludged together code). I hadn’t even considered the idea of passive updating. It never even crossed my mind that that sort of thing could even be possible.nnI imagine it would be possible, if a profile could not be updated remotely, that the service could load the website into some sort of virtual browser and automatically tab between fields. Don’t ask me how that’s done; I don’t have a clue. But I do think such a thing is possible.nnI do know a guy (Nick Armstrong – http://www.iamnickarmstrong.com) who used to be a programmer before he stuck out on his own doing marketing, especially with social networking. I’ll talk to him and see what he thinks.

  • Not being a programmer myself, I don’t know what would be involved. I have seen executions of the virtual browser concept (see the Web 2.0 Suicide Machine for an example), although I don’t know what it takes behind the scenes.nnAlthough now that I think about it, the fact that Facebook has tried to ban the suicide machine tells me that this kind of service is probably against their TOS.nnI’m just guessing here, but I imagine that setting up one mechanism to update a form could be established along side a relational database that says turn module one into field x on website y. Then the program could just move along the database matching the modules to existing content and making changes as appropriate.nnNow that I think about it, this is basically an extremely complicated cross-platform implementation of the find and replace function in most word processing software.