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23 March 2004

A starting point for relationships

Finally, a new - and somewhat corrective - perspective on social networks, from Ideas Bazaar (found via Anne Galloway), written in response to Clay Shirky's dismissal of the RELATIONSHIP vocabulary:

friendOf, acquaintanceOf, parentOf, siblingOf, childOf, grandchildOf, spouseOf, enemyOf, antagonistOf, ambivalentOf, lostContactWith, knowsOf, wouldLikeToKnow, knowsInPassing, knowsByReputation, closeFriendOf, hasMet, worksWith, colleagueOf, collaboratesWith, employerOf, employedBy, mentorOf, apprenticeTo, livesWith, neighborOf, grandparentOf, lifePartnerOf, engagedTo, ancestorOf, descendantOf

Sounds like kinship terminology to me...

Most of these social software devices like Friendster could do with a kinship terminology that helps people understand the real nature of the relationships which they are encouraged to build up. Most of these appear to be about creating a quantity of relations... More specifically, they appear to do little in the way of helping people qualify their relationships beyond simplistic, 2nd degree, 3rd degree etc.

Anthropologists understand that kinship operates at three levels: terminology, rules and practice, and the inter-relationship between the three of these. This means at the categorical, jural and practical level: how are people related, what terminology is used to describe their relatedness, what behaviour is 'meant' to obtain between them (joking / avoidance?), and what behaviour does obtain in practice. Shirky seems to confuse the existence of a terminology with static relationships and fixed behaviours obtaining between people in this relationship. Anthropologists understand that a dynamic interplay exists across these 3 levels.

So I think we can lighten up a bit. No, we can't sensitively describe human relationships in machine-readable language but nor do we need to. Profiles and relationship definitions in social networks are really just there to start conversations, and most of those conversations will take place outside of the social networking service - in IM, via email, or in real life with friends clustered around a screen. This has become obvious to me since a group of single girlfriends started using Friendster for dating purposes, and I've been drawn into the extra-Friendster conversations.

And the kind of fun that both Clay and his commenters have with their own relationship definitions - "kindOfInLovewith, thinkingOfSeveringTiesWith, thisCloseToScreamingAt" - shows that even the process of defining can be playful, too.

Posted at 04:27 PM in Social software | Permalink

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» FOAF developers can't develop ontologies? from Marc's Voice
Since I'll be hanging with both Clay and danah next week at a hoidy toidy social software scene (with Linda Stone no less) - I think I'll put up a placeholder and say (as a FOAF developer) : "we can develop many kinds of ontologies and let our end-users d [Read More]

Tracked on 25 Mar 2004 01:27:36

» Kinship, Logic and Games from The Ideas Bazaar
All this kinship and networks talk of late is making me realise that I should have been listening at University during kinship courses. Shame on me. It has also forced me to dig out old papers I wrote, from which... [Read More]

Tracked on 25 Mar 2004 21:26:24

» Who do you know? from Headshift
Roundup of some recent discussions about codifying relationships in online social networks [Read More]

Tracked on 30 Mar 2004 15:30:37

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