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26 January 2004

My social network ideal

In my utopia, all social network services would generate, import and export FOAF (as per TypePad but on request rather than automatically and invisibly).

Other, useful, services like Amazon or the BBC's audio player, could import and use FOAF to enhance their recommendations, etc. (Tom Steinberg and Dan Hill talk some more about this in their comments on Matt Jones' Amazonster post.)

Google would not create its own closed social network, Orkut, but would instead make FOAF one of its quick searches, so that FOAF:Fiona Romeo would return my FOAF file as the primary search result, with friend and location filtering options. (Content about Fiona Romeo would also be returned but would be differentiated.)

Perhaps Google could add value by introducing a sense of authentication to FOAF, by indicating reciprocal links between FOAF files. I know that this result for Fiona Romeo is the correct one because her friends link to it. Oh, and I know that Matt Jones is really a friend of Fiona Romeo, because he says so too. (Plink, a FOAF search tool, gets this bit right.)

Sites like Friendster and Tribe would acknowledge that the real attraction for most people is what Clay describes as the dollhouse pleasures of setting things up, and start thinking about how they can facilitate gracious exits.

My thoughts? If a member of your service has decided they want to leave, let them. And make it even simpler than creating or updating their account was. But don't leave them with nothing. If they built up a profile within your service, accumulating interests and friends, let them take that with them. The identity is theirs. The friendships are theirs. And they'll only cut and paste it anyway. So let them export their profile as FOAF, which they can then either host independently or take to the next service (e.g. Amazon, BookCrossing, UpMyStreet, or even YASNS).

And give them party favours, like stylish visualisations of their network (as was) and leaderboard-style badges that they can place on their site: I was the 1969th member of Friendster. When I left on 1 December 2003, I was connected to 280,105 people in my personal network, through 59 friends.

This badge would be a memento of their experience, a celebration of what the real value was for most members - and free marketing for the originating service as well. It would work like the quiz results that countless teens post to LiveJournal.

What's your ideal?

Posted at 09:25 AM in Social software | Permalink


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» venting my contempt for orkut from apophenia
As i write this, it's down again. But that doesn't mean that i haven't been thinking about it. And dear god, everyone and their mother has written about it. At the bottom of this rant, i've included some of the ones that have been making me think (and ... [Read More]

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Tracked on 30 Dec 2004 03:42:37


That's funny that you wrote about FOAF and social networks because I just launched the beta of SongBuddy which produces, and will shortly consume, FOAF files. The market for social networks is quickly becoming crowded and without an interoperable standard like FOAF it's going to become unmanageable.

Posted by: George Hotelling at 26 Jan 2004 16:04:01

My ideal would be the ability to find other people who have one or more similar interests to me, and to easily exchange pointers to the music/fashion/software/etc that they are producing or comsuming. (george's songbuddy is a perfect example of this, but more specialized than my 'ideal' social software)

This ideal system would also need a review/feedback mechanism so that I could tell which people were highest rated in their various areas of interests.

Another part of the equation is how I rate other people in their areas of interest. For example, other people may not think that a given person knows classical music at all, but I may think that person has the best taste in it. I could rate them higher in that domain, and that rating would be considered in a scoring algorithm when the system is making recommendations to me.

On Amazon, like how you can rate peoples reviews , but I would like to rate people on a "higher level" than a review. It would be cool if I could say "this guy has great taste in electronica". Amazon lists kind of cover this functionality, but are very narrow.

Just my $.02 ....

Posted by: Rob Jones at 26 Jan 2004 20:49:47

The whole FOAF thang is daft, and so-o-o American. Yes "friend"-ness is binary, and furthermore pigs have wings. Please tell me once more what the point was of all that fuzzy logic stuff. Wouldn't FOAF maps be SO much more interesting if they were fuzzy? There must be some protocol so that nobody's feelings are devastated if Tom rates Dick 0.8 friend but Dick rates Tom "only" 0.72 friend. Sorry to be so grumpy, but this FOAF stuff is like some kind of painful Boole movement.

Posted by: F.Baube at 27 Jan 2004 01:33:59

I think you're wildly underestimating the complexity involved here: "... let them export their profile as FOAF, which they can then ... take to the next service (e.g. Amazon, BookCrossing, UpMyStreet, or even YASNS)." This strikes me as so difficult for all involved (users and site creators) that is just a non-starter.

Friendster has value for people -- we can tell because almost 6m have signed up so far. We may be too cool for it, but it is the first chance many people have had to project an identity in 'cyberspace'.

On the other hand, outputting machine readable descriptions of our relationships for manipulation by Google seems ... useless (and I certainly wouldn't want it happening without my explicit permission -- and I don't want to be listed on Plink either).

I just don't understand what FOAF is for.

Posted by: Stewart Butterfield at 28 Jan 2004 00:19:07

I understand your reservations and I suppose I could have made my point much more clearly if I'd left the tech out of it. I don't know if FOAF is the most useful standard to use - it seems to be at the moment - but what I do know is that I'd like to update my contact details and friend lists in one place; that I'd like to take my accumulated stuff with me when I leave a service. Not everyone wants this - and I think your post explains that well - but many people do.

And when there are more useful services that aren't about self presentation or friend-finding but instead about doing things with existing friends (like an Amazon Associates Network, or SongBuddy), then a simple and elegant way of including your friend lists - rather than recreating them - makes sense.

I do still see the value of services like Friendster and it is - I think - very much what you describe but that's why it can be short-lived, and that's why it would be so useful if people could take that 'first' identity with them. If not, then even a simple souvenir would be nice...

Posted by: Foe at 28 Jan 2004 09:30:15

Oh, I love the souvenir idea. Consider it implemented :)

Posted by: Stewart Butterfield at 28 Jan 2004 20:14:19

Fiona's idea of "taking your profile" with you reminds me of how java web applications work.

The idea is that you can eassentially zip a web application into a single file (in java its called a .war file) and then that file can be "dropped" into another web server to be run there. Of course, the file was to be well defined so that another web server can understand it.

So what I want is my own ".rob" file that I can zip up and drop into any social software I want ;)

The challenge is coming up with the format for this file, and I guess thats what all the hoopla over FOAF is about. Whenver I read about FOAF, its about some service (like Typepad) creating a FOAF file for you. I agree with Fiona that there is something to be said for it being a file that lives on my computer. Also, what would be cool would be an editor to update/edit my FOAF file on my computer, and then upload it to any site that I like.

Pschologically, the whole FOAF thing makes more sense to me the file lives on my drive, I own it and can edit it any way I want. Then, I can upload and sync it to various sites I belong to. PeopleAggregator attempts to solve this problem by having your FOAF file live on their site. If foaf files are the vaporous profiles that live behind the scenes at various sites, I don't know how well people will accept them. I think the idea of a ".me" file is pretty powerful, tho.

Posted by: Rob Jones at 29 Jan 2004 17:29:27