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Code and Social networking11 Apr 2008 at 11:12 by Jean-Marc Liotier

As far as I have looked, is no working FQL console application (I just tested the four FQL consoles that are published in the applications directory on Facebook but they either don’t load or crash on query). Although Facebook mentions that one is supposed to exist in the “Tools” page, there is actually none there at the moment. I guess I’ll have to build a small PHP application for playing with FQL.

My immediate practical goal is to be able to select members of two different groups. The query should be something like ‘SELECT uid FROM group_member WHERE gid=my_gid AND uid in (SELECT uid FROM group_member WHERE gid=my_other_gid)’ – for example to cross special interest groups or geographical areas.

There is plenty of potential for useful data mining that is not exposed by Facebook’s default interface. Search with multiple criteria of the same category is an obvious need for finding interesting people. Maybe did Facebook decide that the cost of additional clutter was not worth it for the average user. Or maybe they would prefer that the users don’t realize how much information can emerge from mining their data…

Knowledge management and Politics and Security and Social networking08 Feb 2008 at 11:35 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I stumbled upon this gem in Hannah Arendt‘s book The Origins of Totalitarianism :

“The Okhrana, the Czarist predecessor of the GPU, is reported to have invented a filing system in which every suspect was noted on a large card in the center of which his name was surrounded by a red circle; his political friends were designated by smaller red circles and his nonpolitical acquaintances by green ones; brown circles indicated persons in contact with friends of the suspect but not known to him personally; cross-relationships between the suspect’s friends, political and nonpolitical, and the friends of his friends were indicated by lines between the respective circles. Obviously the limitations of this method are set only by the size of the filing cards, and, theoretically, a gigantic single sheet could show the relations and cross-relationships of the entire population. And this is the utopian goal of the totalitarian secret police: a look at the gigantic map on the office wall should suffice at any given moment to establish, not who is who or who thinks what, but who is related to whom and in what degree or kind of intimacy. The totalitarian ruler knows that it is dangerous to send a person to a concentration camp and leave his family and particular milieu untouched; [It is a common practice in Soviet Russia to arrest whole families; Hitler’s “Health Bill” also foresaw the elimination of all families in which one member was found to be afflicted with a disease.] the map on the wall would enable him to eradicate people without leaving any traces of them-or almost none. Total abolition of legality is safe only under the condition of perfect information, or at least a degree of knowledge of private and intimate details which evokes the illusion of perfection”.

Hannah Arendt‘s nightmare social mapping system was somewhat mitigated by the technological limits of her time – The Origins of Totalitarianism was published in 1951 and in her mind the information processing technology capable of supporting an extensive social graph was still about as far away as it seemed to the Czarist secret police. But today we are all busy building representations of the social graph to support and enrich our interactions. We are busy on social networking tools making the secret police’s work and making their dream come true.

Have we lost our minds and forgotten about the dangers ? Not quite : privacy management remains at the center of most social graph use cases. But this is a superficial defense : if a totalitarian state was to emerge among our society I know I would be as good as dead – or rather disappeared without a trace.

Luckily I am an European and I therefore enjoy the benefits of a life with historically high levels of freedom. But evil is never as far away as we imagine, and the generation of our grandparents who experienced totalitarism will not remain among us much longer to remind us that.

“You must remember, my fellow-citizens, that eternal vigilance by the people is the price of liberty, and that you must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessing. It behooves you, therefore, to be watchful in your States as well as in the Federal Government” — Andrew Jackson, Farewell Address, March 4, 1837

Knowledge management and Social networking and The Web23 Nov 2007 at 11:04 by Jean-Marc Liotier

I set up a link blog and a collaborative bookmarking site for our tiny geek community. My friends have initially been slightly confused by the conceptual similarities. So here are a few general guidelines to provide a clearer distinction of use cases.

Both tools are relevant for posting links with no significant value added by the poster. If there is value added by the poster in the way of analysis, context, story telling or anything else, a traditional blog entry is a better choice.

A social bookmarking tool must focus on resources that the user might want to come back to in the future, or that he thinks that his friends might be interested in one day. The accent is on easy recall through various means of discovery such as search, feed reading and folksonomic exploration.

By contrast, a link blog focuses on immediate sharing. It is the place to show off the spectacular, the anecdotic, the exceptional – novelty items that you want to share with your friends but whose future recall value for practical use might be low.

The motive for link blogging is not just altruistic : posting in a link blog is also a way to elicit reactions to the content you discovered. And that is why the community gathered around your link blog is important : you want to gather contributions from the people that matter to you. And if you have enough feedback, then there might just be enough new material to warrant more synthetic capitalization in a proper blog article.

As you can see, although the niches of social bookmarking and link blogging in knowledge management do overlap a little, they are definitely distinct and educating the users in extracting the highest value from them is worth the effort.

Design and Identity management and Knowledge management and Social networking and The Web20 Nov 2007 at 6:47 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Open is everything – the rest is details. That is why we must take the best use cases of the closed social networking world and port them in the open. This is a lofty goal in all meaning of the adjective, but a surprisingly large number of potential basic components are available to cut the way short.

Friend of a Friend (FOAF) enables the creation of a machine-readable ontology describing persons, their activities and their relations to other people and objects. This concept is a child of the semantic web school of thought that has its origins about as far ago as the Web itself. In a narrower but deeper way, XFN (XHTML Friends Network) enables web authors to indicate their relationships to people simply by adding attributes to hyperlinks.

Microformats such as hCard, xfn, rel-tag, hCalendar, hReview, xFolk, hResume, hListing, citation, media-info and others provide a foundation for normalizing the information sharing. Some major operators are starting to get it – for example my LinkedIn profile contains hCard and hResume data. If you like hresume, take a look at DOAC while you are at it !

Some code is already available to process that available information. For example, identity-matcher is a Rails plugin to match identities and import social network graphs across any site supporting the appropriate Microformats. This code extracted from the codebase of and this is probably how Dopplr now supports import from other social networks like Twitter.

But part of the appeal of a social networking platform is how it empowers the user with control of what information he makes available, how it makes it available and to whom. So microformats are not sufficient : a permission management and access control system is necessary, and that requires an authentication mechanism. That naturally takes us to OpenID.

OpenID is a decentralized single sign-on system. Using OpenID-enabled sites, web users do not need to remember traditional authentication tokens such as username and password. Instead, they only need to be previously registered on a website with an “identity provider”. OpenID solves the authentication problem without relying on any centralized website to confirm digital identity.

The OpenID project is going even further than just authentication – authentication is just the surface. What OpenID really is about is digital identity management. OpenID Attribute Exchange is an OpenID service extension for exchanging identity information between endpoints. Although the list of attributes included in the OpenID Attribute Exchange schema does not match a nice collection of microformats, a process is defined to submit new attributes. And anyway, such a standard looks like a great fit to cover the need for keeping the user in control of his own content.

Finally, the social graph is the support for applications that must interact with the user’s information wherever it is hosted. That is why Google’s OpenSocial specification proposes a common set of API for social applications across multiple websites.

So a few technologies for social networking do exist, and they seem able to provide building blocks for an open distributed social networking. The concept of open distributed social networking itself has been in people’s mind for a long time. But until now only large proprietary platforms have succeeded in seducing a critical mass of users. Thanks to them, there is now a large body of information about the best practices and use-cases. What is now necessary is to think about how those use-cases can be ported into a decentralized open environment.

Porting a closed single provider system into an open distributed environment while equaling or surpassing the quality of the user experience is a huge challenge. But social networking and digital identity management are such critical activities in people’s life that the momentum behind opening them may soon be as large as the one that led Internet pioneers to break down the walls between networks.

Brain dump and Email and Jabber and Social networking and The Web19 Nov 2007 at 10:43 by Jean-Marc Liotier

Most social tools come and go. The ones that stay share a common feature : openness. For example, email is open : chose any technology, chose any provider or be your own provider, chose any client, any platform – any way you do it you are still connected to the whole world.

If you have the slightest understanding of your own interest, then there is no way you should even consider using a closed platform as your primary mean of communication. Why would you willingly chose to put your most critical asset outside of your control ?

Many users will object that they gladly surrender control to closed social networking platforms because plain email does not meet their sophisticated communications needs and they are not willing to invest in developing the skills currently required to participated efficiently in the blogging sphere. That is a tragedy because the social graph is quickly becoming the glue of the connected services.

And even if the functionality was sufficient, we would still have a huge mindshare gap to bridge. XMPP provides nice basic instant messenging and presence management in an open environment, but most users still prefer proprietary centralized networks and happily trade freedom for webcam compatibility.

But similar battles have been fought and won in the past : Compuserve, AOL, The Source, Prodigy and their ilk have all dissolved in the Internet. The forces of openness now have a new crusade to embark upon : we must take the best use cases of the closed social networking world and port them in the open !

Open is everything – the rest is details. That is what drew me to the Internet fifteen years ago.

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