Most people think of cloud computing as a few users collaborating on Google Docs, but it covers a much broader set of computing-as-utility systems. For example, imagine a distributed computing system where multiple users pool their machines' resources and you can send tasks to other connected "nodes" when you need more power. It sounds useful in theory, but there's also the security risk of whether or not you trust the node you're sending and receiving data from.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota are taking a page from Facebook to solve this problem with a solution the call SocialCloud. The idea is to build a distributed computing network based on a social graph of users you already trust. The researchers envision a situation in which you can assign tasks to different nodes based on social acquaintance — if you're willing to share your innermost thoughts, photos, and videos on a social network, why not share your computing power as well?

Through testing a number of different distributed computing scenarios, the researchers found that social graphs have "strong trust characteristics as evidenced by face-to-face interaction" and that this type of distributed computing network has "self-load-balancing characteristics" as long as the number of people requesting resources is between 10 and 20 percent of the total population. If this percentage stays in check, jobs are completed quickly and efficiently. Though all testing up to this point has been in a controlled enviroinment, the researchers are looking forward to real-world testing soon. Someday, getting a distributed computing network running might be as easy as installing a Facebook app.