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Thinktanks hail era of the 'social operating system'

Two US thinktanks argue that next-generation operating systems will link users to each other on an unprecedented scale
Written by Marcus Browne, Contributor

A recent study has asserted that the next generation of operating systems will link users to each other on an unprecedented scale as developers incorporate social networking into their platforms.

The 2008 Horizon Report, compiled by US thinktanks the New Media Consortium and the Educause Learning Initiative, was released as part of Educause's annual conference and identified six technologies likely to affect learning institutions over the next two to five years, including mobile broadband, data mashups, collective intelligence and the social operating system.

"The next generation of social-networking systems — social operating systems — will change the way we search for, work with and understand information, by placing people at the centre of the network," stated the report.

"This seemingly subtle change — from an emphasis on file-sharing to one on relationships — will have a profound impact on the way we will work, play, create and interact online," the report claimed.

According to the report's authors, the central tenet of the social operating system is that it collates existing information from a user's "social graph" — assorted information on an individual's social and professional interactions embedded across the web — to "connect the dots" between individuals, content and contacts.

"The issue, and what social operating systems will resolve, is that today's tools do not recognise the 'social graph' — the network of relationships a person has, independent of any given networking system or address book; the people one actually knows, is related to or works with," the report continued.

Although the study puts a four- to five-year development timeframe on the technology, there are already several conceptual projects underway, such as Xobni — a tool which collects and arranges implicit social information from Outlook — and a proof-of-concept project being engineered by Yahoo under the working title of "Yahoo Life", as well as several other existing associated technologies, such as Google's OpenSocial applications.

The report concluded: "Each of us produces a significant amount of 'stuff' that contributes to our professional identity and that we want to carry around wherever we go. Social operating systems will enable us to maintain our own work products and easily discover those belonging to others."

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