The Beauty of PDF

Years ago, Adobe came up with a brilliant business model for PDF documents that more services should be taking advantage of today:

"The reader is free, but you pay to format the file if you're a publisher."

We're spending a lot of time trying to figure out how to aggregate, join, standardize, etc., but no one is just working on coming out with a really good "reader", particularly on the social networking side.

All of the social networks out there are branded and closed, yet their does exist a syntax for social networking called FOAF.  Can you imagine if every single place you got a PDF from gave you a new reader?  But that's what's going on in the social networking space.  LinkedIn, Friendster, etc. should allow you to "publish" your groups by adding/inviting users, adding data, pictures, etc...   but when it comes time to "reading", they should allow you to publish to an open standard.  That's what would tie in all the people who don't want to be on them, and I think the best place for a "reader" is in your e-mail.   

The social networks are going to have to learn at some point that they need to open up to truly create value.  This is especially the case for groups.  Institutions like Fordham, NYSSA, would pay gladly pay to "publish" the group functionality if there was a universally accepted reader.  So, someway, you've got to be able to read your connections universally, and add them to other networks.  So, Fordham could publish my alumni connections, NYSSA could publish its database, and I could just catch and connect them all with a freely distributed viewer.  Maybe I'll use the Friendster viewer, or the LinkedIn viewer... as long as they all read, who cares?  Those services could still do all the advertising they need, compete on "extra services", etc. but on top of infinately more valuable interoperable networks of people.

What would this all look like?  Not sure, but right now, the social networks are treating everyone like a publisher, connecting to each other without context, and trying to figure out how to monetize everyone--yet not making access universal.  They've got it all backwards.  The entities to reach I'm relevently connected to, like my school, should be given better tools to connect to their constituenties in an open, universally readable way.  RSS feeds should publish something similar...   creating "socially open feeds" (reading lists) that can connect you to the people you share subscriptions with.

So next steps?  Get the networks to publish their FOAF (if it does what I think it does) and someone should develop a really slick Ajaxed out FOAF reader that you can combine, remix, and add networks, too.