Friday, January 11, 2008

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Whose data is it?

The Burton Group's Bob Blakley has a great post ("Antisocial Networking") today about the Facebook-Scoble story. The essence (or, at least one essence) of Bob's note is that relationships are a different order of data from attributes. As he says:

"Even the fact of your relationship with Scoble is not Scobleís property, it is common property, like the kids in a joint custody arrangement. Both you and Scoble are obligated by the laws of relation here and here to treat the fact that you have a relationship, and also the details of the relationship, according to certain understandings and social conventions. If you donít believe this, meditate on whether you think it would be OK for,, and linkedin to share friend lists. The information Scoble tried to take out of Facebook is NOT Scobleís property; it is relationship information. Scoble is not free to do whatever he pleases with relationship information; if he violates social understandings and conventions by disclosing the existence of or certain information about his relationship with you in the wrong context, he may embarrass or endanger you, and he will certainly endanger the relationship."

And that's what it's all about.

Of course, not all relationships are reciprocal. I have a relationship with Edith Piaf - I'm a great admirer of her singing. The relationship isn't reciprocated, of course, and not only because she's been dead for many years. But I also have a relationship with the very lively Tom Hanks, of whom I'm a fan. I don't think Tom is one of my regular readers, though, so I doubt the "fan" relationship is reciprocated.

Human relationships may need to be classified similarly to mathematical transitivity. There are:
  • reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is friends with b and b is friends with a);
  • non-reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is a fan of b but b is not a fan of a);
  • relatively reciprocal relationships (e.g., a is father to b, b is daughter to a); and
  • asymmetric relationships (e.g., a loves b, b can't stand a).
Some of these relationships will need joint permission for publication, some won't. Some will allow unidirectional publication, some will require it. It's not going to be easy, it's not going to happen soon, but a relationship calculus is going to be necessary for this to work at all.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

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More on ownership

David Recordon has now further developed the ideas ("We Are Opening the Social Graph") first presented in the "Thoughts on the Social Graph" manifesto he wrote along with Brad Fitzpatrick. It's an important work, but begins with a flaw which may, ultimately, prove fatal.

"Your lists of friends and connections on the social websites that you use, sometimes called your social graph, belongs to you. No one company should own who you know and how you know them."

This is a strawman argument, though, as no company claims to own this data. And, in fact, there can be no ownership of what amounts to, simply, a group of facts. What companies do own, however, are the tools for constructing the graph. And, I fear, too many will see the tools - and their output - and claim it as their own.

But consider this analogy:

You take your dirty clothes to the laundromat. You wash them in the washers there, then dry them in the dryers. The laundromat doesn't claim 'ownership' of your clothing (either dirty or clean), but neither can you claim 'ownership' of the cleaning process nor of the equipment (the 'tools') used to do the cleaning. You pay the laundromat for the use of their tools and processes and , in return, you're presented with clean clothes. The "cleanliness" was always present in the clothes, it simply needed some processing to bring it out.

So, too, your friends and relationships need processing in order to form a rational 'social graph'. You can pay some company (either in cash or in kind) to do that for you (like the laundromat) or you can buy or "roll your own" tools to do so (just as you can buy your own washer and dryer).

The sooner we can get away from the disastrous "ownership" meme, the sooner we can get to the fun and interesting parts of identity.

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