technaut (technaut) wrote,
technaut
technaut

Universal Profile Language

Recently I joined a professional networking group, and was confronted with the need to provide a profile. Now, I already have a profile here on LiveJournal, (well, three actually) as well as one on MySpace, and one on Slashdot, and one on Monster, and one on dozens of other sites. Each of these profiles is different, since they are intended for different audiences, and the individual sites want different information (in different formats) but they all contain fundamentally the same information.

The worst sites are the ones where I have to enter my previous work experiences. I end up cutting and pasting from my resume, and it can take hours to go through the process of entering all of the intformation. What I would love to see is some sort of Universal Profile Language for data interchange amongst all of the sites that want my profile.

I'm imagining that a universal profile would be in XML, not because I like that format, but because its popular, and the secret to any data interchange standard is that its useless unless you can get folks to adopt it. It would also need a number of features in order to be useful:
  • Data needs to be stored at several levels of detail, so that a summary or more detailed information can be pulled out as needed.
  • It should handle variations and attributes so that, for instance, a biography can be stored in several versions depending on audience.
  • It must have a carefully thought out privacy and security system, since it will store data of a sensitive nature.
  • It should have a large controlled vocabulary of tags, as well as a way to handle extensions cleanly.
  • Sections should have defaults and be empty until needed. For instance, I've yet to need to fill out my medical information online, and while I may want to support this, I hardly feel I should have to fill the information in until the need arises.
Once a data format has been determined and documented, then it needs to have a library of useful open-source routines written in the most popular web-scripting languages, including javascript, java, perl, php and python. Where possible, these libraries need to be incorporated into as many open source programs that ask for profile data as possible, so that adoption would be increasingly likely.

Finally, there should be a protocol developped for transfering the information across the web as needed. Ideally, each person would choose a profile information repository, either on their own servers or on someone else's, and enter whatever information they feel relevant. From then on, whenever they find themselves needing to provide profile information to a site that supports the Universal Profile standard, they can give it a URL for their repository (or part thereof).

The web site could then read in the profile and extract any needed information. Any remaining gaps would still have to be filled in by the user, but the data they placed into the online forms would be encoded in the profile language and sent back to the repository for later perusal and acceptance by the user. This way, over time, a user's personal profile would slowly come to hold the set of fields that they most often have to fill in online.

If such a system were in place, maybe next time I need to join a professional society that want a copy of my work history, it won't take me two hours to provide it.
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