Federation is hard

Mike’s assessment got me thinking about why federation is so difficult for the social web, or maybe just the web web. We have examples to work with, federated models that work. Like email or the phone network. Also, jabber.

Not that this assessment is entirely correct, but someone on Wikipedia claims, “In networking systems, to be federated means users are able to send messages from one network to the other. This is not the same as having a client that can operate with both networks, but interacts with both independently.”

The web is a terrific medium, but the metaphors we use to “browse” “web” “pages” don’t serve us well when we are trying to figure out what happens where. For instance, when I load my StatusNet profile and see who I am following, it is a different interaction I am having when I load up my buddylist in my jabber client. My web browser is serving as the client, and the server is doing the heavy lifting. Kinda. Not that it matters, because most people don’t have a server, and the federated social web is supposed to serve everyone.

There are too many projects trying to solve this to mention, though of course I certain personalities that I follow. I suspect that moving towards a clever (client-server) might be worth experimenting with. In the meantime, we should still be making sure that our non-federated social web tools are as easy to use as possible.