Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Social Networks are not new or the rage of Web 2.0?

Social networks have been around since we have had societies. Everyone has a social network. Even if you have no friends or contacts with anyone else, you still have a social network (in this case of one person - yourself).

So why do people think Web 2.0 is social networking? The epiphany I had is that "declaring" our social networks is what is really new. This is done via a variety of platforms for various types of relationship circles. MySpace, Plaxo, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on are ideal platforms for these declarations. Each platform has its unique appeal.

What is leading to the end of this phenomena is that people are tired of having to redeclare every relationship every time a new platform comes out. It is long overdue that OpenSocial becomes the lasting monument whereby we can create our declarations once and have them syndicate outwards based on a permissions-based system. So what is stopping this from happening? Simple - a general lack of understanding of binary and n-ary relationships. Here is what I mean.

Here is a declaration: I am friends with Dave Watson.

So what does this really mean? In short, the truth is plain and simple - I have made a unilateral declaration that Dave and I are friends. Why is this potentially errant? Pragmatics and inference errors are abound. We don't know if Dave reciprocates that statement. Is the relationship asymetrical or even traversable? Is it reflexive? Do Dave and I have the exact same definition of "friend"?

You can see how this quickly becomes ambiguous. The solution is to use an upper-level or mid-level ontology to help people understand the nature of these declarations and guide them to correct use. I wrote about this two years ago after a Web 2.0 conference in Berlin here.

James Governor wrote about this pattern of declarative living in a chapter for our upcoming book on Web 2.0. He realized this concept more than two years ago. I guess it took me a while to figure out what he was talking about but the genius of his thinking is still bringing new realizations on a daily basis. Just like I am declaring in this blog article today!

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