Older blog entries for ib (starting at number 17)

A few more words on communal and social designators.

The difference, I believe, lies not so much in the presentation as it does in the emphasis in either design. Communities are defined as a group of individuals, thus emphasizing individual attributes, such as eye color, political orientation, or number of friends within a given structure. Orkut, in this definition would be such a community site, creating new goals (finding a date, a business opportunity, or gaining more "friends") in itself. So is, for that matter, FOAF, which seems to be little more than vCard data in a new format (RDF). Why the designers of FOAF chose to use RDF rather than an existing and widely adopted format remains a mystery to me, maybe there are advantages, maybe it's just the old NIH. Both formats are easily extended, allow for external descriptors to be declared, and have provisions for inter-personal relationships to be documented and managed. In addition, vCard has a long list of supporting tools, from most mail applications to PIMs and address books.

Social structures stress the links (relationships) between nodes (individuals) rather than the individual itself. A good example of a technical design which focuses on relationships, rather than nodes, is XFN , the XHTML Friends Network.

XFN has a few advantages over communal systems such as Friendster, Orkut, or Tribe, in that it correctly recognizes and displays asynchronous relationships, such as Anna calling Bob a friend, but Bob considering Anna merely an acquaintance. Relationships in 'the field' are rarely as clean cut and simple as Orkut's mutual friends paradigm would suggest. Some are even one-sided, that is, they are maintained unidirectionally, even though this should be considered an exception, rather than a rule.

If social networking technologies are to raise above the current trend of dating facilitators and battles for the most "friends", emphasis needs to be shifted from the individual to its relationships with others. XFN, assisted by tools such as RubHub could be the answer.

The lowercase semantic web offers two interesting means to visualize and ultimately analyze such constructs on the web through its implementation of XFN, the XHTML Friends Network, and VoteLinks, a set of constructive semantics to blueprint approval or disapproval with propositions and similar data.

VoteLinks allow publishers to denote approval or disproval by adding a similar <code>rel</code>attribute.

One of the more interesting application, in this case, would consist of a few simple steps:

  • propose or discuss a proposition in writing on the web.
  • (optionally, see below) Define "seed" individuals
  • Call for vote
  • Readers respond on their webspace
  • Either tally all VoteLinks or
  • Define inclusions or exclusions based on XFN data
Such inclusions could involve simple queries, such as "only tally votes by individuals that have been tagged as friend or acquaintance by me", or "only tally votes that have been linked as 'met' by my seed individuals". The possibilities are endless, covering exclusionary approaches ("do not count votes from individuals with Little Green Footballs in their blogroll") as well as weight assignments ("three votes to my friends, two to their friends, one to everyone else").

Here XFN becomes a quite usable, and readily available, means to build working (if rudimentary) webs of trust, based on familiarity not with the voting party, but on acquaintanceship between a defined seed, who enjoys the proponents trust, to the voter.

The advantages of such a system are quite clear - by embedding a vote into a publicized information fragment, discussions of the voting behavior are easy and fundamentally remain associated to the vote. Neither XFN nor VoteLinks require additional software or technical changes to the proponents or voters setup. Infrastructures, such as Technorati and RubHub are already available, and inband designators should speed up adoption considerably, compared to out of band solutions.

One last thing, before I hang up:

Previously, I mentioned five attributes, I believed need to be assessed and considered in social network analysis: proximity, density, source, type, and direction. After speaking to and discussing the issue with Tantek Çelik and others, it has become clear, that I have indeed missed another important relationship attribute.

Frequency, the distance in time and repetitiveness of relationships.

The importance of frequency as a social designator becomes apparent, when seen in the context of relationship proximity and source. A casual encounter might result in a short term state of close proximity, yes may yield a low-density-high-distance link after some time.

That's it.

I really do. See, the new "virus" (or as I like to call it: "Windows User Reality Check") doesn't bother me. I don't run vulnerable software, the system that does the filtering has a large enough pipe to the 'net, to survive, and I won't, as a matter of principle, help anyone who got infected. Other than by loaning them a copy of Gentoo, or taking them to the Apple store, that is.

What pisses me off, really, are the stupid drones out there, who don't care enough for the 'net to turn off their fscking email-responders and virus-scanner warnings. Every admin, no matter how clueless, should be shot and buried if s/he hasn't read the advisories concerning this worm, yet. The worm spoofs email addresses. There is no bloody sense in sending a "your email has been quarantined" email to the From: or Reply-To:. Nobody here but us drones. These are not the virus-spewers, you are looking for. Move along.

Funnily enough, it was one of those self-proclaimed security companies that got hit first, and hard. Predictive analysis - my buttocks. Mailservers all over the web are keeling over from the triple whammy created by bounces, braindead virus-scanner mails, and the Worm.

To make this as clear as possible - two thirds of the traffic I am getting right now as a result of the worm, is not the worm. It's misconfigured mailsystems, stupid scanners, and the like. I've got a mind to start sending out 42.zip to make sure they shut the heck up and leave me alone. Idiots.

There's a worm out there. It's mildly problematic to the 'net, and heavily so to morons who still haven't learned their lesson, yet. And at one point, it'll be more than just a bit of a nuisance to SCO, but that's something that SCO could avert if they'd use the right software.

It's not my worm. I don't receive it, I don't spread it, and I sure as heck won't expose my users to it. Why do you insist on making my life miserable, then? Why do you keep sending me those bounces and anti-virus warnings. I said it above, and I'll say it again - every mailsystem admin, who hasn't tuned his bounce-management, yet, and who hasn't turned off anti-virus emails, be it because s/he's too stupid, too lazy, or too uninformed, to do it, should be bludgeoned to death with his own MCSE manual.

Leave me alone. I'm cranky. Update: So are others. The whole business of SPAM bounces seems to piss off a lot of people. Now, here's a job for all you Info Designers (looking down on poor old Sociologists like me for not grasping the 'net): Design me a network to automatically expose and shame the bastards that a) perpetuate the worm, and b) don't manage their bounces and anti-spam software.

28 Jan 2004 (updated 28 Jan 2004 at 21:04 UTC) »

The recent launch of Orkut.com, and the flurry of sign-ups, partially powered by its ``exclusive'' model of invitation based membership, has brought discussions about ``social networks'' and sites like Friendster, Tribe, and LinkedIn back into the spotlight of discussions.

Social networking isn't new. It is, in fact, as old as institutions and organizations are. Not just since the fundamental writings by Sociologists such as Coleman in 1964 have groups and circles attempted to harness the social capital inherent in structures, using tools to rate and evaluate individuals within a social grouping, and to facilitate communications amongst the members.

The oldest club in Europe, an exclusive French society of dove breeders, used social networking tools since the late 17th century to connect its members via a handwritten newsletter, circulating from member to member, and being amended along the way. A special trust metric had been established, which allowed each breeder to rate his peers, a process in which each vote carried weight based on the casters own ratings. In addition to the mailing, which took roughly one year to travel each of the members, shortcut routes were established, usually between counties, through which smaller groups could reach other groups. To create the shortcuts, each breeder was required to name at least two ``sponsors'' and four breeders he sponsored. Communications between unlinked individuals had to be established by finding a connection via ones own sponsor. Sponsors could, similarly, only communicate with their sponsors or sponsored individuals, making the initial contact a matter of knowing and being known. Once an initial contact was established, the following newsletter circulation was amended to reflect the newly linked breeders, who now were free to communicate and refer directly.

Acceptance of communications of bird purchases and sales based almost entirely on the ratings found inside the newsletter and contacts initiated by sponsors.

If this sounds even vaguely familiar, it does so, because it is reflected, in part, by today's ``social networking'' software.

It hasn't changed much. What did change, are the tools. And their names. And the hubris surrounding them. While most of the hurdles have fallen, including the sometimes mind-numbing wait for another circulation of the newsletter, and initiation has become much easier, the same basic ideas are still at work.

Even the pranksters, fakesters, and bogus friendship links aren't new. The Count of Villechy, in 1889, was expelled from the club for posing as two breeders in an attempt to boost his ranking. The attempt failed due to the elaborate trust metric (which is closely related to the metric used at Advogato [and was calculated by hand, no less]), and because of his estranged mistress' relationship to another, influential, club member.

Social networking is not "happening".

True, in a way, it is, and has been, ever since man decided that being in groups is a good idea. Social networking is shaping its forms and tools, based on the simple method of trial and error. If it works, it'll stick around, if it doesn't, it won't. It's just not "happening" in the "in" sense of the word.

The new meme on the block are social networks in software. Because 'networking' sounds so wonderfully technical, its original meaning (predating even the most rudimentary computers and data-networks by a few decades) has slowly given way to the new, leaving discussions about "social networking" with the task to untangle and uniquely address either one.

"Social capital accumulates through social networks and trust, and the norms of mutual reciprocity that these relationships foster." - Coleman, Puntnam 1988. → Today's "social networking" technology, the attempt to replicate and visualize social ties in HTML, XML, or graphical means, is a toy - at best. In its current application, it creates a user-base in which individuals are more interested in creating individual data, not social data. Once the emphasis is based on the size of a social interaction, not its quality, ties rot and become meaningless. Such a design also gives way to appeasement approaches (reciprocal linking, solicitation of links by way of creating meaningless ties, or linking individuals in an attempt to enter a specific social structure, not as a means to represent a preexisting relationship).

To reverse this - the infant social networking technology today is widely understood as a means to the end of creating social ties and thereby capital, not as a tool to effectively display such connections. This approach creates vast networks of faux relationships with little to no bearing in real life, interspersed with accurate or semi-accurate reflections of pre-existing fabrics. Unless the social networking tool provides ways to differentiate between either relationship, its usability is low.

"Trust", the basis of every social network, relies of effective control mechanism, be they employed through peer review or doctrine. Social capital becomes worthless, and in fact devalues the attached Human capital, if its origins are subject to doubt. → Current social network tools are vulnerable to attacks and easily infiltrated with faux or outdated information. An emphasis on "positive" relationships completely ignores the negative sides of interaction and leaves an interpretative void, unable to properly describe either function or conflict based interactions.

Social capital created and sustained by social networks has meaning only in its most extensive form. Only then, if the foundation and terminology of any valuation is know, and only if the source is identified and enjoys trust → Technology based social networking tools are "sound-bite" based ("In my bedroom, you will find..."). Unless additional steps are taken, usually outside the tools, one is left with imagination and reliance on unverified information to form a working impression of peers.

Social Networking software does not create anything "new". It is an attempt to express existing relationships. Expression is only as useful as its interpretive capabilities and accuracy. → Social structure descriptions such as FOAF, XFN, or the ones used by Friendster-type websites, are generic and unable to express an individual's standing within his or her own social circle. FOAF additionally suffers from technology-centric design, lack of interpreters, and useable levels of saturation. XFN does not claim to be an accurate reflection of social interaction, but has the potential to become one, which is why it has been listed here.

gilbou wrote me an email, telling me I'd shamefully neglected my Advogato diary, and he's right. I've moved most of my public online presence to my own website, which is less a reflection on Advogato's attraction (I still read it, I am subscribed to quite a few people's RSS feeds, and I draw information and food for thought from it on a mostly daily basis), but more on the fact, that I really like the possibility of desktop based microcontent publishing, which Kung-Log and family give me.
bjf: I don't necessarily agree with mglazer, but his entry's not a troll. Inappropriate for Advogato: yes, showing some obvious simple mindedness: yupp, racicst: not that I can see, but maybe I overlooked something; but not a troll.

I am supposed to write those new libraries we need to parse SNORT and NFR data into the XML backend we use, but am playing The Falafel Game instead. Some cow-orkers have threatened to shove the round speakers of my iMac up my rear end if I continue to play the music that comes with the game, but, hey, life of a coder is supposed to be dangerous, right? :)

mcg: You're looking at this from the wrong angle. Why is Windows so successful? It is, because its users are used to it. From home to work back home. Now, if Mac OS X, which is clearly positioned to become that "Digital Hub" thingie for home, makes it into more homes, so will those Open Sourtce apps you'd rather see confined to "Open Platforms".

And, guess what, at work, we'll have an easier time convincing them to use the same apps, because they know them from home. And, all of a sudden, it makes no difference if that's a Linux or a BSD or a Darwin they're working on. They know it.

MacOS X is the definitive way for a steath guerilla Unix infiltration. That's why I love it. And that's why Microsoft hates it.

With the AbiWord fund being on its way back to its rightful owner(s), a question is in order: how powerful is Open Source?

Obviously, some $500+ are by far not the biggest amount ever stolen from PayPal's customers and it's definitely not the only one this month.

On the other hand, we have a well known project, with thousands if not more active supporters, media attention and very powerful commincation outlets - ideal settings to force even the most customer-unfriendly, demeaning company to give in. For PayPal, the $600 are anything but a huge sum, the potential impact, both in loss of clientel and bad media coverage, however is huge.

Would Joe M. Shareware-Windows-Coder have the same impact? I don't believe so. Between its release and the forced removal, some 34.000 people downloaded my "PayPal Insecurities" white paper, but until today, the same holes I described in 2001 exist. In fact, I am almost convinced the AbiWord "heist" was done one of the ways I described back then. I've been called irresponsible for "disclosing" those holes, and still (as in this case) get the calls after each more-or-less public PayPal incident. Fact is, and I keep telling this, those "expolits" were known to thousands of script-kiddies long before I published them in my paper, and both, PayPal and law enforcement knew about the websites dedicated to this kind of fraud.

Now, with AbiWord being the victim, maybe the power of Open Source will make possible what I and hundreds of former victims could not achieve - maybe now they'll think about fixing what's been broken for way too long.

29 Oct 2002 (updated 29 Oct 2002 at 03:56 UTC) »

Thanks to ianmcd, I finally have Ruby on my Zaurus. Maybe I should have kept one Linux box around :)

jdub: That's (unfortunately) the way, open communities will always wind up. Unless there are hundreds of technical and social barriers, one will wind up with trolls, no matter where. Remember, there was a time, when Slashdot was readable :).

Now, Advogato has its mechanisms to maintain a high S/N ratio, the trust metric and diary rating are excellent tools - but either depend on a healthy base of contributors. And, like it or not (I don't :), there's more trolls and "I installed RedHat with Gnome, I am a l33t coder" users out there than even Advogato could survive, should they decide to flock over here.

On a work related note: I am still interviewing candidate after candidate though it's getting very frustrating. There's still plenty of resumes to go through, but I am slowly getting the impression that all good candidates are either outside of the SF Bay Area or already employed somewhere else.

jluster@clusterfsck.net, if you happen to know someone or are someone in the Silicon Valley with a good Unix background.

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