Ming the Mechanic:
Contact Networks

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 Contact Networks2003-05-10 21:39
by Flemming Funch

Recently I've accepted invites to LinkedIn, Ryze, Friendster and probably other networking sites I'm forgetting. Stuart Henshall has some excellent commentary on experiences with these. And it also reminds me, of course, that I have my own contact networking site, NCN, and I went and looked at my own contact list. And, regardless of what kind of nice features it is surrounded with, I must admit that it suffers from some of the same problems that any of these schemes will suffer from. All of them require that one signs up into a central database, and fills in one's profile from scratch, and then one has some way of adding new contacts to one's network. Unfortunately that only works really well if the networks happens to be so super popular that *everybody* is using it.

When I look at my own NCN contact list of 216 people, it has some nice features, quite competitive with the other guys. But most of the people on the list haven't logged into the network for a long time, so their information isn't particularly up-to-date. 3 of them are dead. It is not a big wonder. The network has existed for 8 years, and of course the close to 8000 people who have signed up are not going to sign in every day, unless there is something mind-blowing going on that doesn't happen anywhere else. So, at any given time, maybe a hundred people or two are paying attention on a very regular basis.

What would change it would either be if most of that kind of networking sites and directories of people would work together and share and aggregate information, OR, if one's public persona isn't stored on multiple island databases, but on one's own computer. I can't really go around remembering all the places I've signed up. Really makes the most sense if I maintain my own version of who I am on my own machine, or at least in one particular place I've chosen to be authoritative.

But what about all the relationship info? What other people have to say about me. What level of data-sharing friendlyness they choose to extend to me. It shouldn't be too hard to work out a scheme where this might be stored redundantly both with my data and with theirs. I make a comment about you, it gets stored in my file for you, pointing to your site for the details of who you are. My machine would also ping your machine and let it know that I said something in relation to you, and your machine would have the opportunity of grabbing a copy of it.

Is FOAF - Friend of a Friend - something that is suitable for this? I don't really understand it well enough yet.

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11 May 2003 @ 09:53 by Chris Hagglund @ : More on this
Standards are important Flemming. Perhaps if you defined a standard for storing and sharing contact information for an individual and implemented that on your system and also were willing to help other interested parties make use of the standard in their own systems, then something great could emerge.

I also really like the idea of having to update my information only on my own computer. If I want to make that information available, I'll turn on some enabling mode so it can be picked up by community or networking sites I'd like to participate in. If I felt like being anonymous I could turn it off too, or use some other set of personal information for my pseudo-persona.

I also like your idea of linking anything that has to do with my persona directly to my persona and vice versa. So if I write something about someone else, or something that includes someone elses ideas then they should be automatically made aware of it so long as I take a moment to give them credit for their work. That in turn could help to build meaningful relationships between indivduals who otherwise may not have known of each other.  

11 May 2003 @ 13:06 by ming : Standard
Yeah, it's probably going to happen by defining a simple standard and starting to use it. I'm talking with a few people about this, and it might very well end up coming together.

Some of the difficult things to figure out might well be how to have graduated levels of how public one's information is. Some things I'd like to make public to everybody. Some things are only for my friends. Some only for business partners in a particular project.  

11 May 2003 @ 14:08 by Chris Hagglund @ : Re: Standard
Well it sounds then like you are giving this some more serious thought. Excellent. Perhaps you could define groups for your personal attributes that you wish to share. Each attribute you wish to share could be linked to the name of the group of individuals who is allowed to view that attribute. You could manually register individuals under those group names so that they could be able to recieve the information. There could be a special "world readable" group where any linked attributes would be available to the whole world. With an API there could even be ways of automatically populating these attribute groups with information of authorized/targeted viewers. I think a system like that would do what you want and be pretty flexible too.  

13 May 2003 @ 01:07 by ming : Nooron
Shawn! Great to see you here. I had bad conscience about not actually having loaded Nooron to play with it. Yeah, I bet you have some answers to some of these things, so let's keep talking.  

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