Six Apart (the folks behind Movable Type, TypePad, Vox, and LiveJournal) have announced that they will be opening the “social graph,” the list of people to whom you are connected on their social networks so that you can use it in any way that you choose. They’ll be doing so through open standards, in a manner vastly preferable to giving your account name and password to your online mail service to a social networking service, about which they have this to say:

Many services today, such as Facebook, allow you to log in and upload your contacts and friends from other services on the web. Facebook allows you to enter your email address and password from Hotmail, Gmail, AOL, and Yahoo! to extract all of the email addresses you’ve exchanged messages with. While you may not think of this as a security risk with services you trust such as Facebook, a few weeks ago it was shown that giving someone easy access to your email address books can have very unanticipated consequences. launched a few weeks ago as a new social networking service. With little context for the new service, many people happily gave their Gmail username and password to check to see if their friends were already members. What many of those people did not realize is that Quechup could use that information to email invitations to join Quechup to everyone in their Gmail address book. Lots of unwanted email, and embarrassed apologies, followed.

This is a bold move, and an important one for the industry. I don’t know whether it will work out, because for it to be a big success, other social networking services will have to join in, but I applaud Six Apart for showing leadership in this issue. They’ve given themselves the best chance to succeed by adopting existing standards for everything. So many of these types of efforts are non-starters because they begin with the announcement of a new file format, XML schema, protocol, or Web service. Six Apart is being smarter and humbler in their approach.

If nothing else, hopefully people will question why other companies aren’t showing them as much respect as Six Apart is.