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Programming Social Applications by Jonathan LeBlanc

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WebFinger: Expanding the Social Graph Through Email Addresses

The WebFinger protocol has its basis in Unix, where someone can run a finger command on an email address identifier to gain information about a user. WebFinger has modernized this functionality for the Web 2.0 world, defining a standard for providers to associate metadata with a user’s email address to access her profiles, activities, and much more.

Some examples of information providers might associate with a user’s email addresses include:

  • Links to public profiles for the user.

  • Direct profile data, such as a nickname or profile photo.

  • Other linked services for the email address, such as Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr accounts.

These are just a few of the possible links that a provider may implement for metadata, but WebFinger is more focused on building a specification simply to ensure that this metadata is available. The providers themselves determine the amount of information to tie to an email address.

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