Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Social Networks

It's really worth checking out for the whole map in all of its glorious detail. Furthermore at the site, right at the top is a link to the 2007 version as well as a link to Ethan Bloch's update of his map. even has a big poster of the map for sale (only $20) at the site.

Image permission:cc 2.5

The 27th Comrade left a comment on my last post and I want to bring a snippet of that up with his advice:
However, I give only one piece of advice to those I give a damn about: fuck social networks. I have grown to be really, really suspicious of anything that seeks to define my life in terms of … algorithms. Bad. The necessary end of a World gone mad, and very bad also.
From Comrade 27 and my online banter I suspect he knows most of the time I'm too stupid to take his advice. I hope that he knows that I try to consider it. He's got a knack for getting to the nub of things. So I take very seriously the warning that there are dangers in having our lives defined by algorithms.

Online today I saw a warning, or a bit of unsolicited advice: "Don't talk what you don't know." It wasn't even directed at me, but at time similar warnings have been and I always chaff. It seems that one of the ways I can come to know something is by talking. Even the discomfort of talking sometimes seems useful.

It seems very likely that sorts of currencies of online social relationships will become more common. All the various schemes already existing seem very interesting and there are many. Some of these schemes are an attempt to provide a visible measure of trust, for example eBay's reputation system. Many more deal with reputation of participants within particular online groupings.

One point to be made is that there are many different systems in part because there are many different contexts. A reputation as a Haskel programmer is quite different from knowledge of celebrity gossip so the sites for programmers and gossips are different. It's quite possible for one person to know a lot about both, and could easily flow into the norms of the different sites.

Having slept on last night's post the part that seemed so nonsensical was a vague vision of some sort of currency which in some way aggregated social currency people might have garnered across many sites. It doesn't make sense because notions of reputation are particular. What difference does it make on a Haskel board whether or not you are admired for knowledge of celebrity gossip? Clearly the answer is, Not much. Still I think some sort of aggregate currency has appeal.

Programmers and gossips is just a silly example of what is a complicated set of problems are out there, not just for creating some sort of Whuffie currency, but for all sorts of issues which emerge when people are active online. So perhaps the example sheds a little light on the problem The 27th Comrade has with "anything that seeks to define my life in terms of … algorithms."

The big news today in the social Web scene was Facebook rolling out changes to the Web site. I'm eager to read and listen to what people have to say about this. Zuckerberg had this to say:
"What we're trying to do here is build a social platform. That's very different from building a social application. The difference between building a social application and building a social platform is when you're building an application you're building it for one use case." A platform, meanwhile, can handle anything.
The difference between "social application" and "platform" points to a difference I'm not very clear about and certainly didn't make plain in yesterday's post.

I envision many, many schemes to show something about our social capital online. Some of them will bear some likeness to Whuffie, or a social currency. Almost by definition those will depend on a context for most of their value; that is value within particular social networks. These it seems are akin to Zuckerberg's social applications.

Now it isn't at all clear exactly what I want as far as something bigger goes, but it seems something like a platform which brings together various Whuffie currencies. Comrade 27 suspicion about this is well placed. The dangers and disadvantages are obvious.

Another problem with my inchoate ideas is using a metaphor of money. One of the qualities of money is how agnostic it can be; to by bread or poison no matter. Money entails choice for good or ill.

I enjoy reading My Song In The Trench, the 27th Comrade's blog. He knows theology and I don't. He's been nice enough in my overlong comments on his posts not to point that out to me. Although I'm agnostic I like his theological excursions and other posts because issues of ethics, morality and honor come up. These are subjects dear to my heart and issues which seem to me embedded in the topic of Whuffie and social capital.

I've gone on too long as it is so I'll leave with a few links. First to and old post by Ethan Zuckerman where he explores the pleasures and perils of Cyber Utopianism. Second to philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah at BigThink where he discusses some of the ideas he's written about in his new book The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. I am perhaps too little suspicious about dangers inherent in online social networks and that's not very smart. On the other hand I see great potential for online social networks and commons based peer production to create something good.

I talk about what I don't know in the hopes of learning to know better.

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