social networking and data mining

Audioscrobbler sent me a email today to notify me that Tim had selected myself as a friend of his for audioscrobbling. Yes this is correct information but I had not really looked into the friends option of audioscrobbler. And it made me think about the whole friend of a friend dynamic and why should I fill out foaf information for each silo webservice like flickr, audioscobbler, amazon and del.icio.us?

Someone once say asking for someone to be your friend was not a good way of doing things in the social networking space. It doesnt lend its self to the offline world either. I would kinda of agree but no one has really come up with an alternative. I know FOAF allows you to just add people without asking them first which can be kinda of cheeky but seems more reasonable to me. I mean I could say someone is just a contact, friend or family member if I like, that someone may say I'm there worst enemy or good friend in return. I dont really care if you see what I mean. In my scope there a contact while in there scope i'm a good friend. Where things get complex is when you try to build meaning out of these abstracts. A machine could come along and say well no human's going to add enemy's to there FOAF profile so it must be a friend? Or it could do some serious analysis on the terms used between us and decide to not link us because its not sure what the relationship is. And honestly that wouldnt be such a bad thing.

In Microsoft Wallop, I have a link to a couple of people who simply commented on my blog posts, nothing more. But Wallop adds those people as friends? Now I understand the reason for this, as these people have contacted me so they must be friends of somekind right? But what if they simply wrote comments to wind me up or slag me off? Then I would be pissed off to know there now friends! However this is hard work for the machine to work out whats positive and whats negative, so I guess it relys on me to manually delete or remove them? Which I guess is fair…

But lets move out of the usual social networking applications like wallop, friendster, etc. And think about all those other social applications. And when I say that I mean from email to instant messenger to blogs to flickr. Thunderbird which I use for my email at home, has a nice feature called collected addresses. The idea is that anything I reply to will be added to the collected addresses and never end up in the junk box. Makes sense I would say but not flawless, for example if I reply to a automated email when I join a forum or something, its added to collected addresses. But say I remove myself from the list 2 days later, well the address is still in my collected addresses. Once again i could remove it myself, but I'm human and I forget to do such things. I think there is some projects going on in the closed and opensource worlds regarding machine intellengance which keeps a record of what you do and what you reply to etc but across your whole desktop. Even though it fills me with a little terror, i'm sure there will be secure and privicy assured versions which you can control. I'm envisioning something like zonealarm which tracks what I do with people on my instant messeger list. For example during work time I will ignore most people because I'm working. Wouldnt it be nice if this application could block certain people from sending me links during this time? Then unblock them when i'm less busy. And thats only the start…

When I usually reply to peoples blogs aka leave a comment, its because I think I have something which could move the entry along or general yep totally agreement and alternativly i disagree comment. If this application could tell the difference (hey it could simply ask me, like Zone alarm does) It could track the name of the owner of the blog and effect the way I deal with instant messeges, emails and other requests. For example writing a positive comment on scott's blog should automaticly add his email to the collected addresses in thunderbird, put his blog into a browser zone which allows for popups and flash useage (I'm using Flashblock which I adore), automaticly allow his skype and im addresses to contact me without authorisation. Obviously these should be manually overrideable and you should beable to change levels of trust as such. Another example where this would work. I use Tesco.com for my food shopping. They have this bizarre system where popups are used to display goods with all the label information which is useful. They also send confirmation emails when there going to send the food and what there going to send. Now I think its not crazy to say if I trust the email from tesco.com then I trust the popups too. And if you move this into the mobile world for a minute. Then it wouldnt be too much to say I also trust tesco.com to send text messages to me and call me. Yep text/sms spam is becoming a problem in europe.

Back to the first thought, Tesco may not be my friend but theres a certain level of trust I allow for when dealing with them. I know Tesco mine my foods list every month and they then profile me and send certain discounts and offers to tempt me to buy more. Fine, but I dont want Asda (Wallmart) to do the same! In the same way you can block people on im and disallow cookies on certain sites I want to see the same happening across my interfaces I use. If I'm ignoring someones emails, it might right to say I would like to ignore there calls and texts. This may mean there not a foaf and that I dont want anything to do with them ever? who knows, were only human and I certainly change my mind all the time. But if I do, I should not have to unblock im's, unblock text's and phone calls on all my phones and change the email filter.

So back to Tim a second. When Tim adds me to his del.icio.us, his flickr, his email, his im. I honeslty dont want to keep authorising him. He's a good guy and likewise he shouldnt need to authorise myself when he's already added me as a friend in audioscobbler. Does Flickr trust audioscobbler enough to allow friends on that to be friends on flickr without the usual authorise this person? No, or not at the moment. Maybe that will change in the future? (Because I added a picture from Pmtorrone to the top of this post mean he's trusted or not? And exactly how much trustworthness will he have? Now thats a question not worth thinking about at this stage)
I swear to you theres a serious link with Attention.xml, FOAF and all of what I'm talking about – but alas its late and I cant think of it right now. There are too many questions and not enough answers in this post!

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Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.