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Many-to-Many

July 25, 2007

Tagmashes from LibraryThingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

im Spalding at LibraryThing has introduced a new wrinkle in the tagosphere…and wrinkles are welcome because they pucker space in semantically interesting ways. (Block that metaphor!)

At LibraryThing, people list their books. And, of course, we tag ‘em up good. For example, Freakonomics has 993 unique tags (ignoring case differences), and 8,760 total tags. Now, tags are of course useful. But so are subject headings. So, Tim has come up with a clever way of deriving subject headings bottom up. He’s introduced “tagmashes,” which are (in essence) searches on two or more tags. So, you could ask to see all the books tagged “france” and “wwii.” But the fact that you’re asking for that particular conjunction of tags indicates that those tags go together, at least in your mind and at least at this moment. Library turns that tagmash into a page with a persistent URL. The page presents a de-duped list of the results, ordered by interestinginess, and with other tagmashes suggested, all based on the magic of statistics. Over time, a large, relatively flat set of subject headings may emerge, which, subject to further analysis, could get clumpier and clumpier with meaning.

You may be asking yourself how this differs from saved searches. I asked Tim. He explained that while the system does a search when you ask for a new tagmash, it presents the tagmash as if it were a topic, not a search. For one thing, lists of search results generally don’t have persistent URLs. More important, to the user, tagmash pages feel like topic pages, not search results pages.

And you may also be asking yourself how this differs from a folksonomy. While I’d want to count it as a folksonomic technique, in a traditional folksonomy (oooh, I hope I’m the first to use that phrase!), a computer can notice which terms are used most often, and might even notice some of the relationships among the terms. With tagmashes, the info that this tag is related to that one is gleaned from the fact that a human said that they were related.

LibraryThing keeps innovating this way. It’s definitely a site to watch.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 13, 2007

Debatepedia cures premature neutralityEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Wikipedia’s policy of neutrality sometimes forces resolution when we’d rather have debate. Yes, competing sides get represented in the articles, and the discussion pages let us hear people arguing their points, but the arguments themselves are treated as stations on the way to neutral agreement.

So, there’s room for additional approaches that take the arguments themselves as their topics. That’s what Debatepedia.org does, and it looks like it’s on its way to being really useful.

Like Wikipedia, anyone can edit existing content. Unlike Wikipedia, its topics are all up for debate. Each topic presents both sides, structured into sub-questions, with a strong ethos of citation, factuality, and lack of flaming; the first of its Guiding Principles is “No personal opinion.” Rather, it attempts to present the best case and best evidence for each side.

Debatepedia limits itself to topics with yes-no alternatives and with clear pro and con cases. To start a debate, a user has to propose it and the editors (who seem to be the people who founded it…I couldn’t find info about them on the site) have to accept it. This keeps people from proposing stupid topics and boosts the likelihood that if you visit a listed debate, you’ll find content there. It also limits discussion to topics that have two and only two sides, which may turn out to be a serious limitation. But, we’ll see. And it can adapt as required.

Will Debatepedia take off? Who the hell knows. But it’s a welcome addition to the range of experiments in pulling ourselves together.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

February 3, 2007

Technorati's WTFEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Technorati has a new feature that’s only slightly confusing but very interesting and potentially quite useful. (Disclosure: I’m on Technorati’s board of advisors.)

It’s called “WTF,” which technically stands for “Where’s the Fire,” but has another more likely meaning. (David Isenberg named one of his conferences “WTF” and then had a contest to decide what it stood for.) So, if you go to Technorati and take a look at the Top Searches in the upper right, to the left of each entry there’s an orange flame. Don’t click on it yet because the page it takes you to is confusing. Instead, click on one of the searches. At the moment, “Boston Mooninites” is the top search. Click on it to go to the search results page. The top result is not a result at all. It’s got a flame icon next to it, indicating that it’s actually the WTF about the phrase “Boston Mooninites.” It’s an explanation of what that phrase means and why people are searching on it now. Who wrote it? Anybody who wants to. So now click on the flame icon. It takes you to the same page you would have gotten to if you had clicked on the flame icon in the Top Searches list on the home page.

Ok, so now you’re on the WTF page for “Boston Mooninites.” Note that this is not the search results page. It’s where you get to create your own WTF for that search query. Or, you can vote on which of the existing ones; the one with the most votes is featured on the search results page for the query.

It’ll be very interesting to see how this develops. For example, the current top WTF for Windows Vista is a product review, not a neutral explanation. (I’m not complaining.) Many of the WTFs on the Vista list are responses to previous ones, as if WTFs are discussion board, probably an artifact of the layout of the WTF page.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 27, 2007

Crowd questionsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

LinkedIn now is enabling users to pose questions to their social network. Only members can respond. They’re also limiting how many questions you can ask per month. Interestingly, you’re only allowed to give one answer to any one question. As always, it’s those details that determine the shape of the society and its success. (Thanks for the pointer, Eric Scheid.)

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 4, 2007

Disney's kiddies networkEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Disney is launching a social network for kids. My knee-jerk reaction: Yech.

Gavin O’Malley at Online Media Daily has a more considered reaction. He points to the apparent failure of Wal-Mart’s social network for kids (“The Hub”—an awfully grown-up name), and worries that having parental controls will kill the Disney effort as well. I agree with Gartner’s Andrew Frank that it’s likely to be all product placement all the time…and, if so, I hope kids reject it.

But, of course, I haven’t seen it and don’t know what it’ll be like. Maybe Disney is smarter than that.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

December 29, 2006

metadata + reality = politicsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

The US Food and Drug Administration has decided tentatively that meat and milk from cloned animals are the same as from normal animals, so it is not going to require those products to carry special labels.

Too bad.

It’s not that I think cloned food is dangerous. I’d still like the labels to note that the animals were cloned because more metadata is always good. If people don’t want to eat clones for whatever reason, they should be enabled to make that choice. In fact, we’d be better off with full access to the information about what we’re purchasing. Where was the cow raised? What was it fed? What was its weight? What was its body fat ratio? How old was it? Did it get to roam free? Did it have a sweet smile? What was its sign? We’re better off being able to access it all, no matter how farfetched.

But, because of the nature of non-digital reality, taking up label space with a notice that the meat is cloned would itself be metadata indicating that the government thinks such information is worth noting. Metadata in the physical world is a zero sum game.

And that means not only is it true that (as Clay says) “metadata is worldview (or is that “metadata are worldview”?), physical labels are politics. We are forced to make value-driven decisions by the constraints of the physical (labels take up valuable space), the biological (human eyes require fonts to be sized above a certain minimum) and the economic (it is not feasible to attach an almanac of information to every chicken wing). But online, all those limit go away…

…except for the economic. It would be expensive to do a cholesterol count for every slaughtered cow (assuming that cows have cholesterol) simply to gather information that so far nobody cares about, but there’s plenty of information that we’re gathering anyway or for which there is predictable interest—e.g., cloning—that we could make available online (via a unique identifier for each slab of flesh). There would still be politics in the decision about which information to put into the extended set, but it would be a more inclusive, bigger tent, allowing customers to decide according to their own cockamamie values.

And isn’t cockamamie consumerism what democracy is all about?

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

December 21, 2006

PLoS ONE ... the long tail of scientific researchEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Public Library of Science has gone beta with PLos ONE, a peer-reviewed journal that publishes everything that passes the review, not just what it considers to be important. So, if it’s good science about a nit, it’ll find a home at PLoS ONE.

Articles are all published under a Creative Commons Attribution License. It does, however, cost a scientist (or her institution) $1,250 to be published by PLoS ONE. This is, alas, an improvement over what traditional journals charge scientists. PLoS ONE will waive the fee for authors who don’t have the funds.

Readers can discuss and annotate the articles. But the site could really use tags ‘n’ feeds. Maybe after beta…

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

August 11, 2006

In-line tagging at LibraryThingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Tim Spalding has taken discussion forums a big step forward over at LibraryThing. The concept is simple but could make a real difference because it allows forum msgs to be aggregated in multiple ways. When you’re entering a msg at a forum, you can put a title or author in brackets and LibraryThing will take a stab at identifying what you have in mind. Think of it as in-place tagging. You can thus easily find all the posts about a book. And all the references to a book or author will be lilsted on that book or author’s page.

Because LibraryThing knows which books you own (because you’ve told it), it can feed you msgs about any of them. And, as Tim points out, this unhiding of msgs will change the temporality of posts: Rather than msgs fading into obscurity a few days or weeks after they’re posted, they’ll be easily findable and reply-able.

Very cool.

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

June 10, 2006

PennTags - When card catalogs meet tagsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

University of Pennsylvania’s del.icio.us-like PennTags project allows readers to tag catalogued items. It’s a great way to track resources for a research project and simultaneously make the results of your forays available to future researchers. In fact, it seems just plain selfish not to do so.

Integrating tagging with the book catalogue (and therefore with the book taxonomy) instantaneously provides the best of both worlds: Structured browsing leads you to nodes with jumping off points into the connections made by others who are putting those nodes into various contexts, and tags lead you back into the structured world organized by experts in structure.

My guess is that the folksonomy that emerges will not change the existing taxonomy because in a miscellaneous world you don’t have to change something in order to change it. The existing taxonomy could stay exactly as it is, as the folksonomy supplements it by providing synonyms for existing categories (e.g., a search for “recipes” takes you to the “cuisine” category of the existing taxonomy) and leaping-off-points from it into the user-created clusters of meaning (e.g., here’s the tag cloud for the node you’re browsing). Rather than disrupting, transforming or replacing the existing taxonomy, the folksonomy may just affectionately tousle its hair.

Anyway, PennTags looks like a great project.

(U of Penn’s Library Staff Blog is here. And here is the newtech category of that blog. On a quick browse, this looks like a terrific resource if you’re interested in libraries, taxonomies, folksonomies, tagging, etc.) [Tags: ]

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 1, 2006

Tag nationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Technorati reports that 47% of blog posts have a user-created category or tag associated with it, excluding default categories such as “diary” and “general.”

That’s a lot of tags.

Comments (4) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

January 21, 2006

The Bottom-Up $100,000 PyramidEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Zephyr Teachout and Britt Blaser, both veterans of the Howard Dean Internet campaign, reflect on how to fix what’s going wrong at the well-intentioned Since Sliced Bread contest. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is sponsoring the contest, offering $100,000 to the person who comes up with the best idea for improving the lives of working women and men. 22,000 ideas were submitted which “a group of diverse experts” winnowed to 70, a process some felt was too top-down.

This is a fascinating case in which a bottom-up process is supposed to squeeze out a single winner, the contest is intended to advance the social good, and the reward includes a hefty chunk of change.

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

December 12, 2005

Tag, you're gay!Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

The Guardian has a story by Mark Honigsbaum about an attempt to identify gay-related items:

Backed by the museums documentation watchdog, MDA, the group Proud Heritage this week began sending out a two-page survey requesting that institutions throughout the country list the gay and lesbian documents and artefacts in their collections. “For the first time ever, we are asking museums, libraries and archives throughout Britain to revisit their holdings and reveal what they have that is queer,” said Proud Heritage’s director Jack Gilbert. “At the moment these are not classified correctly, or held completely out of context and never see the light of day.”

… At the Lllangolen Museum in Denbighshire, north Wales, for instance, there is an exhibit commemorating the lives of Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby. Known locally as the Ladies of Llangollen, they lived together in a small cottage from 1819 until their deaths in 1829 and 1831, and were renowned for wearing dark riding habits, an eccentric choice of dress for the time.

“They would never have used the word lesbian to describe their relationship but there is no question that they lived together and shared the same bed,” said Mr Gilbert. “We think there may well be similar examples in other archives, but because people didn’t use words like lesbian and gay 200 years ago archivists have either overlooked it or simply don’t realise it’s there.”

Great example of why authors/creators/publishers are not the best or final taggers of their own stuff. (Thanks to Phil Edwards for the link.)

Comments (12) + TrackBacks (1) | Category: social software

September 24, 2005

LibraryThingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Timothy Spalding has put together a really interesting site, called LibraryThing, that lets you list your books, tag them, and share the list with others. You can search by bibliographic info, user or tags. And Tim does some useful listing of the top 25 books by author, tags, etc.

One of the cool things: You enter a book into your list by typing in sloppy information. For example, if you want to enter The Social Construction of What? by Ian Hacking, you can type in “social construction hacking” and LibraryThing will search the Library of Congress and Amazon. Sure enough, it finds the right one. Click and all the bibliographic info, plus the cover graphic, are added to your list.

It’s basically free, although to add more than 200 books to your list, Tim asks for a one-time fee of $10, which seems pretty reasonable to me…especially once Tim adds RSS feeds so we can subscribe to a tag, reader, etc., and discover the new books others are reading.

Comments (11) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

September 16, 2005

Facets + TagsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Siderean has always allowed their customers to embed hierarchical trees within their faceted classification system (example here) when appropriate. E.g., if someone is navigating via the geography category, the system can know that SoHo is in NYC which is in NY state which is in the US. And Siderean has shown an early curiosity about tags: Its fac.etio.us thought-experiment/demo turns del.icio.us bookmarks into a faceted system.

I got briefed by the company a couple of days ago and learned that future releases of their navigation software are going to incorporate tagging more directly, enabling users to annotate/tag the data they find. A faceted system might add a right amount of organization to a pile of tags, making that pile far more useful. Imagine a folksonomic faceted system…

Comments (31) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

August 31, 2005

RawSugarEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

You can think of RawSugar as a searchable del.icio.us with automagic, hierarchical clustering. (Users can also manually create hierarchical tag sets.) So, instead of seeing a long list of links on the left and a long list of tags on the right, at RawSugar you see a list of links on the bottom and your top-level tag categories on the top. The higher level tags are automatically propagated to the lower level ones. So far there is no way for users to publish their tag sets so others can use them.

I spoke briefly with founder Ofer Ben-Schachar who told me only that the auto-hierarchy infers relationships among mulitple tags an individual gives to a single object and among multiple tags multiple people give to the same object. He says the company has 5 patents.

The site is new and only has a few thousand users and about 15,000 links. It looks very usable. Now we’ll just have to see if it reaches the critical masses…

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

August 13, 2005

Does frequency count?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Pito Salas blogs about a new beta feature of his open source BlogBridge aggregator: A small histogram shows each feed’s frequency of posts.

Is this useful information? I think so. If I see one of the feeds has been very active, I may be driven to catch up. Of course, there are many feeds I value where the posts are few, and I would worry about a widget that drives people merely to the frequently-updated blogs. On the one hand, this is an aggregator of feeds I’ve chosen, so I already know that I’m going to read, say, Jay Rosen’s feed even if he’s not posting eight times a day. On the other hand, BlogBridge prides itself on its ability to help users discover new feeds, and there the frequency chart may slightly skew people towards the more frenetic blogs.

Overall, it looks like a useful meter. I hope Pito lets us turn it off if we want, but I’ll probably leave it on. (Disclosure: I’m an unpaid advisor to BlogBridge.)

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

July 20, 2005

The tagging culture warEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Tom Coates does some analysis to illustrate what he suggests is a cultural difference in how people use tags. Some use tags as folders to house objects, others use them as descriptions of objects. (And, it seems to me, many of us do both.) His example: If you tag an URL as “blogs,” you are collecting blogs into a virtual folder. If you tag an URL “blog,” you are describing it as an example of a blog. In the first case, you’re probably putting blogs aside so you can read them. In the second, you may be researching the blog phenomenon. Tom’s research leads him to conjecture that “the folder metaphor is losing ground and the keyword one is currently assuming dominance.”

I assume this is correlated to blogging for myself and blogging to add to the social tagstream: I tend to folder for myself and to keyword when contributing to a social tagstream

It’s all very confusing. Fortunately, Tom is a good explainer…

Comments (13) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

July 7, 2004

Redefining friendshipEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Do I have any friends?

No, I don’t mean this in some pathetic “Nobody loves me, I’m going to eat some worms” sort of way. I know that some people like me, that some people don’t, and that the overwhelming sentient biomass of the planet would rather pluck a penny from a turd than care.

But, if you were to ask me, “Do you have many friends?” I’d reply, “Nope. I don’t have any. Well, maybe one, but I only see him every five years.” Since I know there are people who will read this and think that I’m saying I don’t care about them, let me explain. It seems to me that a person with friends arranges to spend time with them. Maybe they go to the movies or have dinner together and then play Jenga. But I don’t do that, and nobody does it to me. Therefore, I have no friends.

And yet I know my saying “I have no friends” has to be false since I’m not the lonely, isolated human being that that implies. I actually am pretty social (in my own retarded way), do the manly bear hug thing with plenty of people, and get scarily happy when I run into people I know. My definition of friendship as a type of appointment-based relationship has to be wrong. So, how should I now broaden my definition?

...continue reading.

Comments (10) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

June 28, 2004

Amplify: Social pagesEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Amplify launched its toolbar today. It lets you pull together and publish pages composed of online snippets you encounter; it’s like a favorites list turned into a Web page, except nicer looking than that. At their site you’ll find sample “amps” about free wifi-spots, Scarlett Johansson, game cheats, and why you should avoid AOL. “Amps” are rated by users and by the staff of Amplify, and every amp has a discussion board. (I have not downloaded the toolbar, so I don’t know how well it works.)

It’s free. Their privacy policy looks pretty good - they collect aggregated data about what you add to amps but are not tracking your clicks when you’re not amp-ing stuff - except
that they may include crapola from Infospace that does watch your every click.

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

June 10, 2004

Internalizing socializationEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

In Stowe's column, discussed by Ross, Stowe says: "...the tools that we will use to make sense of the world must be far more socialized than today's solutions..." I believe from the context that Stowe is referring to social tools, but it raises an interesting question: Are individualistic tools adding social components, and are we using those components? For example, Word lets you do a bunch o' social things with documents, but what sort of uptake has there been? My guess - and, as always, all facts I mention are guaranteed to be wrong - is that the most widely used social tool in Word is rev tracking, and that's only social serially. Am I wrong yet? (Do we count "Save as HTML" as a social tool?) Photo albums and editors are a class of tools likely to move rapidly from individual to genuinely social for two reasons: Photos often are about shared memory, and by sharing them we can distribute the too-onerous task for tagging them with metadata so they are findable and understandable. What else?

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category:

June 2, 2004

Aggregator in developmentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Pito Salas, the technical architect of eRoom, one of the better pieces of corporate social software, is hacking away, writing an aggregator that so far he's leaning towards open sourcing. He's blogging the process, with lots of opportunities for the rest of us to comment on features, tech issues, licensing, etc. Pito is wide open to ideas about what would make his aggregator a truly useful tool.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 21, 2004

Where in the World is Joi Ito?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Joi has six free days in Europe and has posted a wiki where we can suggest ways he can constructively use his time.

A cleverer person than I could probably figure out huge amounts about Joi, his social network and his standing just by reading this page. It's the sort of rich artifact the Web creates unintentionally and frequently...

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 14, 2004

Most underrated organ: The corpus callosumEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Clay has sparked YAD (yet another debate) through his delectable writing, this one about the consequences of two facts: We are making more images than ever (thanks to camera phones, moblogging, etc.) and the Internet has undone the traditional controls over images. Clay puts this in the context of the Reformation (just scroll down the freaking page and read it already!), draws fire over whether the new unfiltered presence of images is a good thing, and replies. All I'd add: Images obviously have powers words don't. But we're not just getting to see unfiltered images. We also get to talk about them together. That, IMO, is what's really different these days.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

May 4, 2004

The insistent messiness of humansEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

In response to danah's too insightful-to-be-mere-musings about whether artificial social networks (ASNs) model autism, Cory writes:

There is defintely a strong echo of autism life-skills training in the YASNSes. An autistic learns that a smile means happiness, a frown anger, and so on - and wishes that people would just explicitly spell out their feelings, rather than using these mushy, unspecific cues. To me, this is strongly reminiscent of the YASNS’s demand that we make explicit all our friendships (to the point of writing testimonials about our friends!) - "Your nuanced continuum of friendship is hard to understand and needs to be quantified. Please rate all your friends’ sexiness from one to three."

Of course I love Cory's critique of the pathological explicitism of ASNs. And I've certainly been on that bandwagon before. But it also makes me realize the extent to which we humans inhabit the explicit gestures we've been taught, re-ambiguating them. For example, Jerry Michalski likes to hand out red, green and yellow cards at small-audience events so that we can flag our agreement, disagreement or indifference to what's being said. That's potentially reductive, but we end up waving them with non-reductive, analog, continuous degrees of enthusiasm (to Jerry's delight). Clapping could be a rather binary form of social interaction, but we invest it with all sorts of oomph. "Raise your hand if you have a question," and some kids timidly crouch behind their hands while others are out of their seats with waves the size of semaphor signals. And, of course, Morse code operators could recognize one another by the silences between the clacks. So, sure, the "Type in a percentage of friendship" box in ASNs is stupidly reductive. But, wrt ASNs it will be fascinating to watch how we insist on complicating the simple, ambiguating the precise, and smudging the edges of the discrete.

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 29, 2004

My Orkut mapEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Clay posted the geomap of his Orkut connections. Here's mine. Notice that it's got a few more categories:
My Orkut map

Comments (5) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 25, 2004

Google: Too much information?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

According to someone on a mailing list I'm on (i.e., I'm about to spread a rumor), Google's controversial GMail service (proposed tagline: "GMail touches your GSpot") will use the same long-lived cookie for your email as they do for your search history. So now Google will know (if this rumor is true) not just the content of your emails, but also what you've been looking for ... and who you are. If the above rumors and conclusions speciously drawn from rumors are true, it will require me to append to my "In Google We Trust" tattoo the words "But not that much."

Comments (7) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 9, 2004

Clay loves NYEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Read this interview with Clay about NYC. You'll laugh, you'll sniffle, your brain will tingle. (Before you flame my in the comments for touting an article that isn't about social software, read the damn piece. I think you'll thank me for going off topic.)

Comments (0) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

Business blogs: Oxymoron or destiny?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I'm leading a session at BloggerCon on how businesses are using blogs these days. Besides inviting you (April 17, at Harvard, for free), especially if you have a story to share - the audience is the panel - I'd love to hear from you about companies doing interesting things in the blogosphere. Post a comment or, if you prefer, send me email at self@evidentX.com, except without the X. ThanksX (except without the X).

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 8, 2004

Backchannels Wide OpenEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

So, last week we were at the Microsoft Research confab on social computing, where Liz, Clay, Joi, me and a couple of others formed a back-back-channel IRC chat, about which Liz writes insightfully. Steve Johnson was at the conference and didn't join in. But, humbly, neither did he tell us that he talks about backchannels in his mind-opening book, Mind Wide Open. I just got up to that chapter in the book. Steve is arguing that laughter is more about forming social bonds than about finding jokes funny. (When I read what Steve writes, I feel tumblers clicking into place. Click click click, he's unlocked another idea.) Then he writes about his experience at a conference where the backchannel was projected onto the screen, points something I haven't seen observed before, and relates it to brain chemistry:

...the most interesting side effect of this discussion was that the arrangement sucked all the jokes out of the room and into the chat....You'd see people smile to themselves as the joke scrolled across the screen, but they wouldn't laugh out loud...If laughter is primarily a form of social bonding, then depriving the room of laughter will have a dramatic effect on its general tone....[W]ith the humor stashed away on digital screens, our brains had been deprived of the reward chemicals triggered by laughter. Jokes on their own simply weren't enough. [pp. 128-9]

I've already bought Mind Wide Open for two relatives, and I expect I'll be buying some more. Steve writes beautifully at every level, from graceful sentences to a structure that moves you along like a good song. Plus, every three pages there's an insight that rewires your brain. This is a damn fine book.

Comments (1) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software

April 7, 2004

Microsoft's Channel 9Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Microsoft has launched Channel 9, a wiki-bloggy-chatty-social-networky-mobloggy sort of place where you can read what's on the minds of five Microsoft developers as they develop for Microsoft. (The name comes from the channel over which some airplanes broadcast the traffic between the tower and the plane.)

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Reply to ClayEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

This started out as a brief comment on about my article, but Clay is too insightful, so my response got too long, so... I say with a whopping 0.15 confidence that a FOAF file is more likely to be useful as a way of mapping who knows whom than as a source of info about why people are choosing to form those relationships. So, a FOAF spider may be able to tell that I count Clay as a friend (lucky me!) but FOAF files themselves probably won't be much help in figuring out why we're friends. Dan Brickley (half a FOAF ... Libby Miller being the other half) has told me (i.e., I'm about to mischaracterize something he says) that he'd rather have an application figure out from his site that Libby is his best friend than rely on an explicit declaration of friendship. (Also, the example Clay gives - "Mr. Shirky is a Pisces and likes Chinese noodles" - I think is more likely to show up in an ASN profile than in a FOAF file.) And, yes, semi-permeability (another lovely term from Clay), with its promise of semi-privacy, is more conducive to the frankness and selective disclosure that gives rise to rich 'n' thick human relationships. But: Walled gardens aren't the only way to provide privacy. Friendster (et al.) draws the wall around the personal information and the relationship data. It wants to own my new friendships. It's as if a real world dating service not only matched you up, but also insisted that you date at its restaurant, send mail through its private service, and have sex at its motel. ASN's are like relationship theme parks.

...continue reading.

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April 2, 2004

WhoYouShouldKnow.govEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

One more April Fools joke. (Note to Clay: Given your weariness with the genre, you won't want to click here and definitely not here.)

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March 28, 2004

Bob Frankston's new social networkEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Bob Frankston introduces his new Enemy of my Enemies social network. (Note: Bob says I dislike the social networking phenomenon, referring to a piece I just published in my newsletter. The piece actually tries to get at the bad reasons I react negatively to artificial social networks, although I do begin by listing what I think are some good reasons to be wary.)

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March 22, 2004

ICQ UniverseEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

ICQ has a Flash-based, browsable visualization of social networks. Very Flash-y, but I haven't had time to explore it. (Unfortunately, there's no way to try it without joining.)

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March 20, 2004

How the Web changed my nameEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

All my life, I've been "David," except to my older sister who calls me "Dave" or even "Davey."

If you call me "Dave," I won't correct you, although if you ask me my preference, I'll say "David" without hesitation. If you ask me why, I won't be able to give you a meaningful answer other than that my family called me "David."

Now, at age 53, I find I'm becoming a Dave. About half the time.

The explanation is, I think, simple. These days, most of the people I meet aren't introduced to me by someone who — one or two or six degrees ago — I introduced myself to as "David." Because we meet via the Net, these new friends and acquaintances have to take a guess, and "Dave" sounds less formal than "David." So, "Dave" it is. And since I don't correct them (see paragraph 2), "Dave" has begun reinforcing itself.

I'm guessing that this doesn't happen as much in the world of print publication. If I were to write to John Updike, I wouldn't start the message off, "Hey, Johnny!," even if I were sending email. Likewise, I doubt readers wrote to Ernie Hemmingway, Jackie Steinbeck, or Aggie Christie.

But, much Web writing feels so immediate, so personal, that even though the architecture of the relationship is one-to-many, and thus is formally like the broadcast architecture, it's more like the one-to-many at a party where a group of us are telling stories, giving each other the floor.

Furthermore, for much of Web writing, especially blogs, the distance between the author and the work is erased. We are who we write. In responding to my Web writing, you're responding not to the work but to me. I suspect that some people call me "Dave" precisely to announce that they're talking to me, not to an author of something. "Dave" drives a wedge between the by-line and the person.

(By the way, I still prefer "David.")

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March 17, 2004

Transcript of Friendster presentation at SXSWEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

The awesome Heath Row has posted his near-transcript of Jonathan Abrams' keynote at the SXSW conference.

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March 16, 2004

A Friendster momentEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I'm sitting in a chair backed up against the wall in the large room where Jonathan Abrams, founder of Friendster, gave his keynote address to the sxsw conference. He'd left the room about ten minutes earlier, but I was still there, blogging and checking email. He comes back in. The way the seats are arranged, his path leads past my seat. He notices me. A look of almost recognition passes over his face. He quickly scans my name tag. "Oh, um, hi," he says, each syllable more tentative. We've never met. But when he breaks his stride and looks at me, I have an author's egotistical moment that maybe he's read something of mine. Maybe he's heard of me. As his syllables lag, I see that he's realizing it's a mistake: My face rang a bell, but the name tag damped the bell's sounding. "Hi," I say, in the tone of voice of a stranger who wants to follow up with small talk or a question. "Hi," he says. Opting, quite reasonably, to take this interchange of greetings as concluded, he walks away.

"Is Jonathan Abrams your friend. _Yes _No."

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Jonathan Abrams at SXSWEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Jonathan Abrams, the founder of Friendster, is giving a keynote at the SXSW conference. Unfortunately, I missed almost all of it because lunch went long. Here's what I heard... Real vision of Friendster: Experience the Internet with your friends. That goes beyond dating. In 2004, we'll see lots of other applications. Everything is different when you look at the net as social, using your social network as a filter. I look people and tell them I know someone who knows someone who knows you, and people are fascinated. [Seems irrelevant to me.] He says Friendster is hiring. [If you're looking for an introduction, I have a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend who works there...] Q: Was Six Degrees an inspiration? A: 90% was addressing problems I and my friends had. But Ryze was an inspiration also. Another guiding idea: To reduce the level of stupidity on the Internet to the level of stupidity you have generally. I can't stop people from being an asshole. But on a computer, with the anonymity and without seeing reactions, people act that much stupider. He says people want a "break up alert." Q: You dispelled the rumor that you're a CIA front, but what branch of government do you represent? A: There are bigger databases with more interesting information in them. What your favorite movie is really doesn't interest the government. [Unless it's The Battle of Algiers, etc.] Q: What about fakesters (i.e., fake personages)? A: We've been so busy with scaling that we haven't add functionality. But we'll be doing that now. We'll provide the features that some people use fakesters for (e.g., Burning Man, Stanford Alumni). Q: Are you going to open up APIs? A: I'd love to, but we have to deal with privacy and security issues. Q: Politics? A: Various politicians are using Friendster. Kerry, for example. Friendster is looking at allowing rock bands, etc., to be available on Friendster so you can link to them as a supporter. [Ah, mission creep!] Q: Are you really only for the youngsters? A: Right now our users are first adopters and skew young. But Friendster is for anyone who has at least one friend. If you're over 50 and are looking for a date...[Hmm, the dating purpose seems central to his thinking despite saying that it's about more than that.] Q: Privacy? A: We won't sell your info. We will use it for targeting ads. And remember, you can delete your account at any time. At the end, he gives out swag: Free Friendster condoms.

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March 13, 2004

Social grieving, US and Spanish styleEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

As someone at breakfast today pointed out (damn, I have to add RAM to my own little name space), Americans dealt with the shock of 9/11 generally by going into our living rooms and turning on the TV. The Spanish have responded to 3/11 by going into the streets, 11 million strong. It's a telling point, but what exactly does it tell?.

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March 9, 2004

Love, Technology and the UnspokenEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

From Christine Rosen's essay, "Romance in the Information Age," in The New Atlantis:

Among Pascal’s minor works is an essay, “Discourse on the Passion of Love,” in which he argues for the keen “pleasure of loving without daring to tell it.” “In love,” Pascal writes, “silence is of more avail than speech…there is an eloquence in silence that penetrates more deeply than language can.” Pascal imagined his lovers in each other’s physical presence, watchful of unspoken physical gestures, but not speaking. Only gradually would they reveal themselves. Today such a tableau seems as arcane as Kabuki theater; modern couples exchange the most intimate details of their lives on a first date and then return home to blog about it. "It’s difficult,” said one woman I talked to who has tried—and ultimately soured on—Internet dating. “You’re expected to be both informal and funny in your e-mails, and reveal your likes and dislikes, but you don’t want to reveal so much that you appear desperate, or so little so that you seem distant.”

Rosen pulls together lots of threads — some familiar, some unexpected — about the nature of love and what sending it over wires in bits does to it. But, for me, the heart of it is in the excerpt above: We live in an age increasingly deaf to the unspoken.

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March 8, 2004

Are markets social?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Scott Kirsner in The Boston Globe (link will break tomorrow) writes about companies trying to enhance eBay. His lead example is a storefront operation run by AuctionDrop that operates as a consignment shop: You bring in your old goods, they place them on eBay, you split the winnings. It sounds like a cool idea until you get to the final paragraphs of the piece: Their 75 employees and 20,000 square feet of warehouse space brought in $1.3M in revenues last year. Ulp.

Scott cites other companies that have failed, sometimes because eBay sued them into failure. An eBay spokesperson says:

"We are happy to see this universe of different kinds of companies offer services that extend the eBay marketplace in new and innovative ways," says Hani Durzy, an eBay spokesman. But Durzy says it is in eBay's best interest to ensure that tools offered by third parties work well, and that data from the site is used in a way that protects "the integrity of the marketplace."

That's not why they sued BiddersEdge.com into oblivion. BiddersEdge consolidated auctions across auction sites, so you could find which site was offering the Princess Di Beanie Baby at the lowest price. BiddersEdge helped preserve the "integrity of the marketplace"...unless you define "the marketplace" as "eBay." Yet eBay tolerates (how magnanimous!) AuctionSniper and other such sites that, for a fee, place your bid at the last possible second before a bid closes. Does this protect "the integrity of the marketplace"? Maybe, maybe not, but it does ensure that eBay gets the highest price that robots can provide.

I've lost bids to auction snipers. As a customer, I feel cheated, even though, of course, I could take a sniper's eye-view of the transaction. Even if letting robots game the auction doesn't affect the integrity of the marketplace, they sure take the fun out of it. And that's part of eBay's value as well.

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March 1, 2004

Collaborative BloggingEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Jeff Kang, who headed up the Queryster.com project, is gathering names of people who want to get an email when Collablog.com is ready for download, probably in a few weeks. Jeff says Collablog aims "to make multi-user weblogs easy to do and administer." No further details at this time.

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February 28, 2004

An episode in search of a metaphorEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Please read the following non-fiction passage and answer the essay questions at the end. Be sure to use a #2 pencil.
Last night, coming back from the airport, my cab driver stopped to pay the $4.50 (!) tunnel toll. "Mikey!" he called out to the guy in the tollbooth. "How's it goin'?" "Not bad. You?" "Great, my man. See you later." "Bye, dude." As we entered the tunnel, I asked, "A friend of yours?" "Yeah." "Do you know him outside of the toll booth?" "Nope." "How many times a day do you go through these tolls?" "Oh, it's gotta be five or six times."
1. Please compare and contrast with various Internet relationships you have had. 2. If the cab driver were to receive an Orkut invitation from the tollbooth guy, should the driver say "Yes, the tollbooth guy is my friend" or not? Explain your reasoning. 3. Are tollbooth attendees the A-List of real-world bloggers? Analyze their traffic in terms of power laws. Be sure to show your work. 4. Does this two-person group constitute an echo chamber? (For extra credit: Is the Callahan Tunnel an echo chamber? Even if your windows are rolled up?)

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February 20, 2004

Salon article on echo chambersEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Salon is currently running an article of mine about the echo chamber meme. SPOILERS AHEAD: Many Net conversations that look like echo chambers in fact simply serve a different - and legitimate - social purpose than outsiders want them to. The real echo chamber is the mass media. There! I just saved you 1,500 words!

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February 12, 2004

Orkut HaikuEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I have at last found (via Michael O'Connor Clarke) some value in Orkut: There's a Haiku community with some amusing entries. How emergent! Here's a modest contribution: Have you seen through me? Do you love me for myself? Orkut needs to know.

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February 4, 2004

Orkut Friends - Collect 'em all!Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Michael O'Connor Clarke finds Orkut's use of photos of one's "friends" reminiscent of another hobby:

Oh look - he has a Pierre Omidyar. I wish I had a Pierre Omidyar. Wonder who Pierre has - ooh! ooh! A Wesley Clark!! Dang! That makes even my Esther Dyson look a little sick. Hmmm... I'll see your John Perry Barlow and raise you a Marc Andreessen and a Jeff Bezos...

He's also having trouble with the name "Orkut" because, he says, it reminds him of this.
Michael has just written another funny-because-it's-true blog entry, complete with a "Get out of Orkut free" card. (It reminds me of a mock Friendster screen I've been using in presentations to make the point that the problem with Artificial Social Networks isn't simply that they make analogue relationships overly precise, but also that they make them explicit.)

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February 2, 2004

Clear, precise...and problematicEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Orkut embodies two of the weaknesses inherent in artificial social networks: it requires us to be clear and precise. Those are virtues when it comes to invoices and jury verdicts, but they are how real social networks are not built. The precision shows up in the digital choices we're given: Is Phil your friend or not? If he is, is he one-star, two-star or three-star sexy? Choices you are not given include: (i) Sort of sexy. (ii) Could be sexy if he dressed better. (iii) If I were a woman, I think I'd find him sort of sexy if I went for that type and if he dressed better. So, exactly how many stars does that work out to? Ah, but as several commenters on a previous blog entry pointed out, Orkut lets us write testimonials precisely to get around the over-precision of the yes-no rating system: We can write what we want and say what we can't say with 1-3 stars. But, while testimonials need not be precise, they do try to make explicit something important about a relationship. Sometimes, of course, that's exactly what we need to do. And, if the testimonial system is working for you, fine. For some people in some situations it's going to be exactly what they need, Nevertheless, you can only build a real social network by overcoming clarity and precision. Groups form by creating messy darkness. A team "bonds" as the relationships among the members become so tangly and ambiguous that the members can no longer sum one another up in a few words, much less by reference to their official roles. A mailing list becomes more than just a distribution channel when, over time, the participants learn enough about one another through the implicit body language of messages that their off-hand descriptions -- "She's a curmudgeon" "He's a total geek" -- feel inadequate. Our most important relationships -- our family, for example -- we can't fathom fully much less explain clearly. Groups become real through ambiguity, messiness, the implicit and the unspoken. We can be somewhat precise and somewhat explicit about these real relationships, but there's a price to pay: Any clear and explicit description I gave you of my daughter would obscure more than it showed, and would have an effect on my relationship with her if she were to read it here. Artificial Social Networks like Orkut get it backwards. They are built on explicit and precise declarations of relationship. Does this mean they're worthless and doomed? Not at all, although I personally am finding Orkut to be all maintenance and no value. Humans are so doggedly social (hmm, something wrong with that sentence!) that we take every instance of proximity as an opportunity for relationship, and we overcome every obstacle to find someone else to care about: A line for tickets becomes a nonce encounter group if the movie is sold out, and even prisoners in solitary will tap on the walls to talk with someone they may never see. (BTW, what exactly is the baud rate for cell-wall tapping?) So, connect millions of us by digital lines that are clear and precise, and we'll figure out some way to overcome the system's limitations and bring it into genuine sociality. Something will emerge. We just can't tell what yet.

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January 31, 2004

The Grinch who Turned Down TestimonialsEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I have problems with Orkut and other such e-friendship networks because they make binary the most analog of relationships. But I really hate testimonials. I am neurotically compliment-averse to begin with but encouraging people to write little paragraphs praising one another cannot help but spawn an Economy of Bullshit. What makes it worse is that the couple of testimonials I've gotten (and declined) have been from actual friends who thoughtfully crafted paragraphs that meant something to them and to me. And then I slam the door on them. I wish Orkut would make this less awkward by letting participants opt out of receiving testimonials.

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January 30, 2004

Marc Canter banned from OrkutEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Marc Canter has been banned from Orkut, possibly because he linked to 300 friends in a week. Hmmm. I've ranked every one of my Orkut friends as maximally fan-worthy, trust-worthy, cool and sexy, except for the handful of people who've asked me to be friends who I actually have never heard of before; they only get 2 stars out of 3. So, will I be next? One can only hope...

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January 28, 2004

New Corante blog, and why Clay is wrongEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I've started off my new Corante blog — on how the Net is changing our democracy and politics — with a critique of Clay's provocative Dean meme. The new blog is called Loose Democracy, and I'm open to comments, suggestions, criticisms, unfunded mandates and recall initiatives. And please remind me of the 4,000 people I've left off my blogroll...I have problems creating lists ex nihilo. All I can promise you is that I will never make a mistake and I will never ever be wrong.

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New Amazon serviceEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

From Denounce:

Amazon Launches New Social Network Called "Pricekut"

Customers Can Now See and Comment
on the Contents of Other Customers' Shopping Carts

It's satire, ok? (Thanks to Brian Dear for the link.)

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January 23, 2004

The one-to-one social networkEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

As Ross has noted, there's a new social network on the block: Orkut. from Google. I think I see where this is going: I'm going to have a different social network for every friend. Then a protocol for networking the social networks will arise. The protocol will be TCP/IP (The Commutative Pal Is Pestered) and the network of social networks will be called the Intersocialnet. But, unlike the Internet, the value of the network of social networks won't go up as the number of nodes increases for the same reason that my real social network doesn't expand every time someone is born. In fact, when I reach my breaking point (which is scheduled to occur about 4 hours from now) and start autoresponding to those upbeat emails with a curt "No, you are NOT my friend!", the Intersocialnet will turn me into a pariah wandering the digital earth friendsterless and friendless all my days. Thanks a lot, Orkut!
According to the Butt Ugly Weblog, "orkut" is a slang term for "orgasm" in Finnish. Unfortunately, the site is named after its creator, Orkut Buyukkokten, whose parents were either cruel or not Finnish. On the other hand, what isn't a slang term for "orgasm"? I mean, even "Finnish" is, as in: "Didn't you Finnish yet?" (Thanks to Janne Jalkanen for pointing out the dirty Scandinavian parts.)

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January 5, 2004

New rule: Don't call me if you don't know meEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I like Skype. It lets me make phone calls for free to the other 4M people who have signed up for the service. The calls go through my computer and they work real good. But I've just gotten my second random phone call from some well-intentioned stranger who wants to know if I want to chat. Actually, I don't. If you call my Skype number randomly, the odds are just about perfect that you're going to be interrupting something that I'd rather be doing than speaking with a stranger. And here's how you know that: If I wanted to be speaking with a stranger now, I'd be on the Skype phone calling one. If you can get through to me on my Skype line it's because I don't want to be speaking with a stranger now. Thank you for your attention.

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January 4, 2004

Does social software matter?Email This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

There's some back-and-forth at StartUpSkills.com on whether social software will amount to much. Jeremy Zawodny says: "Start thinking about how adding a social networking component to existing systems could improve them." StartUpSkills replies that people don't have enough incentive to give away the social network that is their competitive advantage. Personally, I agree with Jeremy that networks such as LinkedIn will only survive if an external application figures out a use for them. Without that, we're left with people you don't know asking you to hook them up with other people you don't know. Om Malik doesn't understand why people would share their Rolodexes with commercial entities. My problem, though, isn't that my Rolodex is too valuable to share (hah!), but that social software of the Friendster/LinkedIn sort necessarily get social relationships wrong: First, social relationships aren't transitive: If A knows B who knows C who knows D, there is no sense in which A knows C much less D. We do, however, have a social convention for first degree relationships: A is entitled to ask B for an introduction to C. But not to D. Second, social relationships aren't formal (in the logical sense). In logic, if A > B and B > C, then A > C. But -- and here's why people generally don't name their kids A, B and C -- A doesn't have to ask B's permission to be greater than C, and C doesn't get annoyed at B for pestering her with requests from strangers to be greater than C. Every time I introduce someone to my pal C, I am altering my relationship with C just a little bit. Third, real social networks are always implicit. The ones constructed explicitly are always -- yes, always -- infected with a heavy dose of social bullshit. It's like thinking that the invitiation list for your wedding actually reflects your circle of friends and relatives. No, you had to invite Barry-the-Boozer because he's your cousin and you couldn't invite Marsha because then you'd have to invite her husband Larry-the-Ass-Grabber and her daughter Erin-the-Snot-Flinger. Explicitly constructed social networks not only lack the differentiation that makes relationships real, they are falsehoods built to reinforce spectral relationships and to avoid ending shaky ones. There may be uses for the links created within these artificial social networks, for while the relationships aren't transitive, some of their properties -- interests, tastes, prejudices -- are: if A and C both know B, they are statistically more likely to share B's tastes in music than two randomly selected people are. That may turn out to be useful to some other application. But if you want to get at the real social networks, you're going to have to figure them out from the paths that actual feet have worn into the actual social carpet. (See Ross on FOAF and Plink and Clay on Om...)

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December 31, 2003

Ideas for Social SoftwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Seconding Liz's linking to Matt Haughey's ideas for useful social software. Matt suggests "Epinions + Friendster," which sounds a lot like a company that Paul English, Rick Levine and I tried to start a few years ago. Matt puts the problem well:
Last summer I moved to a town in a place far away from where I've spent the past few years, and one of the first problems I had to solve was finding the perfect everything. I quickly amassed a bunch of questions that took months of trial and error to answer through a network of new friends and neighbors. Where could I get a good haircut? Which one of the local dentists would be most understanding of my dental anxiety? Which store should I shop for food at if I want a lot of organic, natural, and meatless food? Are there any trustworthy mechanics in this town? Which one of the two Thai places is "the good one?" Where should I go for a nice night out here? Which theater plays the art house movies? Which one of the furniture stores should I trust with my money?
We bought the url WordOfMouth.com and set up shop in Boulder, CO. The initial idea was to provide a way for webs of friends to share information about local services like the ones Matt describes. You'd list which services you use, and rate, review and discuss them. You'd also be able to indicate who you know and trust, and join clusters of the like-minded. We hooked up with newspaper sites, integrating with their yellow page services. And then the company went broke. The newspapers loved the service so long as it was free to them. Getting them to pay was a whole 'nother issue. I still think the initial idea is solid; hardly a day goes by that I couldn't put a service like that to some use.

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December 1, 2003

A-social NetworksEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Esther Dyson has written a right-on article about social networks, warning about the privacy issues that will arise especially as one or two become more prevalent:
At the end of the day we will have private aggregations of data more rich and interconnected and personal than any government ever dreamed of ... and of course this data will be readily available, just as data from credit card companies, merchants and airlines is today.
She also worries about what these networks are doing to the notion of friendship:
In some way, with their numbers and lists and classifications, these services can subtly make a social network into a trophy collection.
Exactly! I'm a member of LinkedIn but I only visit it when someone requests me to approve them as a friend. (Weird concept.) I always say yes because saying no is a much more serious event. Besides, so far no one I dislike has asked me. But the resulting social network doesn't reflect my real online social network. For that, you'd have to watch my incoming and outgoing email, and track the blogs I read and respond to. No, the network being assembled at LinkedIn has little to do with friendship and sociality and a lot to do with mutually advantageous business relationships. Of course, there's nothing wrong with that, except that these social networks are debasing the words "friend" and "social." Perhaps a more descriptive tagline would help. How about:
Putting the Shill into Social Leveraging Mere Acquaintanceships for Business Success since 2003 So that's what friends are for!

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November 19, 2003

Pen and InksterEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

Imagine doing Friendster in person. You go up to the people you know and ask if they want to sign up as your friend. None of them say no, of course, unless you are badly deluded about who your friends are. Then you see someone who is a friend of a friend. You go up to him and strike up a conversation based on nothing except the fact that you both know the same person. You get to state what your interests are and read the other person's list. "So, you like ice skating, Victorian embroidery and the Pats." Pretty grim scenario. Social networks - both artificial ones like Friendster and real ones like the people you cc - often depend on the connective thread being vanishingly thin. So, last night we had 15 strangers over to our house to write letters to undecided Democratic voters in Iowa explaining why we think they ought to consider supporting Dean. This is a very weird exercise, like doing Friendster not in person but via personal, handwritten letters, and without the mediation of a shared friend. The only personal relationship vaguer and more artificial than this is, perhaps, the penpal: "So, you live in Greece! I live in Boston. Do you like souvlaki? I do, but not as much as pizza. Do you eat pizza in Greece...etc." At least we had something to talk about. It's weird (yet slightly thrilling). You're connecting without context. How old is the recipient? Political position? Socio-economic class? Favorite Beatle? You've got nothing. Sometimes you can't even tell from the person's name what sex s/he is. I wouldn't have been shocked if this campaign had been received as intrusive or offensive, yet, there's some evidence that it works: Dean's polls numbers have gone up after mailings like these. Could be a coincidence. Might not be. So, what do we learn from this? A few things, I think: First, it's a reminder of how weird it is to set out to build a human connection on purpose rather than have it emerge from a context rich with gestures as small as an eye glance. That's as true of Friendster as it is of penpals. Second, the thinness of the connection permits us to take social liberties that in a real-world, embodied meeting we would not. Third, if you want to stop spam, make the spammers write each of their damn messages in longhand. Oy, my aching digits! Sorry to be writing about the Dean campaign again, but I've been spending more time on that than I have on social software in the past few weeks.

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November 17, 2003

The socio-political networkEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

So, we have what seems to be at least a relatively new social phenomenon happening: a presidential campaign that's moving ahead in part because the supporters are feeling connected not just to the candidate but to one another. And that campaign (Dean's) has been creating an infrastructure that allows groups of supporters to meet and stay in touch...a social network. This happens through the real-world contacts made at MeetUps, through the Dean online social network (DeanLinks), through the Dean real-world event organizer (GetLocal), and through the open source software they've written to make it easy for anyone to create a group and to link to other groups (DeanSpace). Let's say Dean loses either the nomination or the election. As others have pointed out, he could become the Goldwater of the Democrats: the person who loses the election but lays the foundation for a strong recovery years later. In this case, the groundwork would include a set of social relationships instantiated on the Web. What would happen to that infrastructure? My guess - and keep in mind that I have never been right, not even once(tm) - is that the elements with the ties to local geography are the most likely to persist. Yes, it seems quite possible that we'll see some topical mailing lists emerge, and perhaps Pilots for Dean (via DeanSpace) will stay together for a couple of decades because it's a good place to ask for advice from like-minded flyboys and flygals. But I suspect (based on almost nothing) that it's the friendships made through MeetUp and the access to local people in DeanLinks and GetLocal that will survive the longest with the richest connections. Geo-based groups are a resource for all sorts of questions that almost always have real immediacy to them. For example, if it's January 2005 and you want to organize a bus to go protest the second Bush inaugural (nooooooo!), GetLocal is sitting there waiting for you. And if you want to get some folks together to serve Christmas dinner at the local shelter, GetLocal will be a good place to look. Then, of course, there are all the uses that will emerge and surprise our asses. Much more fun to think about: What becomes of this social network if Dean wins...

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November 14, 2003

Not just activist, not just participatory, but connectedEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

I was at a day-long conversation about emergent democracy a couple of days ago and found myself arguing against talking about the (possibly) new grassroots as a form of "activism" or "participatory democracy." From my highly limited viewpoint, what's (seemingly) happening around the Dean campaign is better understood as connected democracy. It's not simply that connecting lowers the hurdle when compared with either activism or participating. More important, the rewards of connected democracy are different. Yeah, we (pretty please) throw King W out, but we also get a relationship to the others walking in the same direction. We're friends, we're buddies, we know one another by (login) name. That by itself is a powerful motivator. Of course that sense of connection is nothing new. In fact, there's nothing older in our history than our sense of connection to others. But we haven't been trusted to organize ourselves -- i.e., to invent things to do and then go do them together -- as we have in the Dean campaign. And, more important, to talk about e-democracy only in terms of activism and participation misses that which will carry this campaign beyond Election Day, win (hooray!) or lose (deplete the Strategic Prozac reserve).

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November 10, 2003

Semantic social softwareEmail This EntryPrint This Article

Posted by David Weinberger

The current set of discussions swirling around Clay's latest pebble in the pond I think raises a question for social software: Where does social software fit into the Semantic Web? Since there seems to be considerable disagreement about what the Semanatic Web (or, if you prefer, semantic web) is, this may seem like an ambiguous question. And how ironic that would be, since the Semantic Web (at least according to most accounts) begins by people coming up with taxonomies that make clear (searchable and usable) what a set of data is about. This works great for some fielded data...more or less by definition since the fields are the metadata. So, if you're trying to get a bus schedule that will get you to a movie theater on time for the early evening showing of The Matrix Redundant, it's easy to imagine a computing application looking up bus schedules on one site and movie times at another. But social software is, arguably, a reaction against the collaborative systems that fielded too much. Instead of filling in forms and choosing from pulldown menus, social software has us writing in wikis and blogs. What could be more ambiguous than a wiki, the very definition of a document that's never done? Of course, there's plenty of metadata around social software: author, date, revision history, category, title, mean time between posts, etc. And all of that is value just waiting to be put to use by clever applications. But the metadata about a bus schedule leads you to unambiguous and predictable data; the metadata around social software does not; it leads you to delightful surprises. So, what's the role of social software in the Semantic Web? Does it even show up on the Semantic Web's radar? Does the Semantic Web ignore the fruit of social software as unreliable and unpredictable and unusable data? In other words, does the Semantic Web systematically route around some of the most important and human information on the Net?

...continue reading.

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