Open-Xchange, a provider of open source messaging and groupware, has announced its concept of Social OX, OX standing for Open Xchange and the concept of a "personal information hub". The idea is to provide an approach where someone can maintain its "contacts" centrally and exchange that information with social networks like LinkedIn, Plaxo, Xing, FaceBook, MySpace, and others. The idea is to consolidate, manage, and re-use personal and social network data.

The concept supports publishing data to others and consuming shared data. In effect, that information will become exchangeable, in contrast to today's lock-in approach in most social networks. Data can be tagged and so on, allowing to use different data for different contexts. That even will allow companies to integrate (respecting the data protection/privacy laws) available contact aggregated from individual contacts of employees, as one of many use cases.

Currently, HTTP and XML are the underlying concepts, allowing an easy adoption. But Open-Xchange considers approaches like information cards as well for the future. The focus is on a common semantics and standardized interfaces to exchange that information. And Open-Xchange claims that several large social network providers are starting to support that concept.

Social OX is an interesting threat for providers of social networks, given that it opens them up. But will it also affect their business models? Currently, the lock-in is a part of the concepts. With approaches like Social OX (and the approach for exchanging social network information might be used by other vendors as well) that lock-in disappears, allowing to use platforms like Open-Xchange to read the data out and publish it to another social network. That will allow a faster and more easy switch between social networks.

However, it is unlikely that leading social networks will disappear. They benefit from the number of users and they especially benefit from their other services around the personal information which could be exchanged using Social OX. However, it will become easier for new social networks (and other system relying on that information) to enter the market. Today, the value of new social network approaches is frequently low because there are too few users. That will become easier, even with the need of others to subscribe and import their data as well.

Social OX has the potential to influence the way we work with social network data and personal information, with Open-Xchange (and maybe other vendors) acting as personal information hub. It might as well allow new business models (think about personalization). And it might lead to a world with more successful social networks than today, due to a lower market entry for newcomers. But as long as the market leaders focus on the added values for the network members and have a valid business model (which isn't necessarily true for all of them today), Social OX will not lead to their replacement. However, they will have to learn to exist without the lock-in of social network information of their customers.