Augmented Social Networks

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Augmented Social Networks (ASN's) are platforms for `trusted exchange'.

Read the article at



Contextual commentary from Lyon Albaugh:

Personal communication: "I would highly recommend the whole article if you have time. This article fits in very well with my recent insights about the relation of P2P and alternative currencies. I agree with you that P2P as a medium (because it is both geared towards immaterial production, and creation of social capital) necessarily transcends the necessity of a currency to regulate its interaction. However, the implementation of a universal wage is most likely far off. In the mean time, compensation for ones online P2P contributions can be fulfilled with a yin style complementary currency (Lietaer's term for a currency that utilizes cooperation for the creation of social capital, compared to yang style currencies that utilize competition for the creation of material goods within a market environment). However, this would only truly be useful if one's contributions within any given online community would be accepted by other online communities via a trusted exchange system. My belief is that the ASN is a possible platform for that exchange, that will help supplement the pay of the noble knowledge worker until the universal wage becomes a reality. This whole vision is still very blurry and will need much refinement. The way my mind usually works is it intuits a broad and big picture solution and then must go through and assess the details to see if it is a practically viable option. Anyways, I welcome your critical feedback, as well as your recent thoughts about the relation of alternative currencies and the universal wage."


The Augmented Social Networks Link Tank report (2003) is available from

"Building Identity and Trust into the Next Generation Internet

Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by being better at connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century? When networked personal computing was first developed, engineers concentrated on extending creativity among individuals and enhancing collaboration between a few. They did not much consider what social interaction among millions of Internet users would actually entail. It was thought that the Net's technical architecture need not address the issues of "personal identity" and "trust," since those matters tended to take care of themselves.

This paper proposes the creation of an Augmented Social Network (ASN) that would build identity and trust into the architecture of the Internet, in the public interest, in order to facilitate introductions between people who share affinities or complimentary capabilities across social networks. The ASN has three main objectives: 1) To create an Internet-wide system that enables more efficient and effective knowledge sharing between people across institutional, geographic, and social boundaries. 2) To establish a form of persistent online identity that supports the public commons and the values of civil society. 3) To enhance the ability of citizens to form relationships and self-organize around shared interests in communities of practice in order to better engage in the process of democratic governance. In effect, the ASN proposes a form of "online citizenship" for the Information Age."


"Principles of Implementation

The intent of the ASN is to increase interconnectivity between people by enabling them to more easily find and share relevant relationships and information. Clearly, engendering trust in the system is critical to its success. To that end, it is necessary for the implementation of the ASN to be guided by principles that support such an environment of trust. These principles include:

  • Open Standards. For this system to be broadly adopted, it must be

transparent so that all of the entities that participate in it are reasonably assured of its trustworthiness. This means that the software code that enables the system should be non-proprietary and freely available, and that the process by which the software is written and the standards enacted should be open to the highest levels of scrutiny.

  • Interoperability. Our vision is of an Internet with more bridges and fewer

walls, where the individual can travel easily between communities. To enact this vision, online communities need to consider ways of being open to one another. Interoperability between diverse environments and ontological frameworks is central to this effort.

  • Inclusivity. For the system to successfully draw in the largest possible

number of participants, and to enable free connection between potential correspondents, it must be designed to embrace every online community that agrees to its standards and principles. In this regard, the ASN must be value-neutral, open, and inclusive, not unlike the open connectivity of the underlying Internet protocols.

  • Respect for Privacy. The ASN should be a galvanizing force for the

strengthening of privacy protections online, in support of a thriving civil society. Every person online must be certain that private information remains private, and that neither governments nor commercial interests will use this information in any way without the individual's knowledge and expressed permission.

  • Decentralization. The Internet works best when systems are not commanded

from the top down, but rather emerge from the bottom up -- and are then adopted on a voluntary basis, in a manner that best suits the specific needs of the distinct communities that together comprise the Net's totality. We are in favor of an "opt-in" system, rather than one commanded by a government or commercial authority. For that reason, our approach is to develop software and standards that can be added to existing community operating systems in a modular fashion -- so they do not have to rewrite their software from scratch, but rather can "plug-in" these modules to their existing infrastructures. Similarly, the ASN would support decentralized structures for the maintenance of persistent identity and ontological frameworks."


"The ASN weaves together four distinct technical areas into components of an interdependent system. The four main elements of the ASN are: persistent online identity; interoperability between communities; brokered relationships; and public interest matching technologies."

An example of the application of the above, from a case study on Dadamac by Pamela McLean:

"*1 Persistent online identity*;

We think of "persistent online identity" POI* *in terms of online visibility and track-record - both of Dadamac itself and of the individuals in the Dadamac community.

So far we have concentrated on the POI of John Dada, and setting up appropriate structures and systems so that his POI will develop semi-automatically as he is actually doing his work. We are developing an online space - part open, part limited access. The open part is for visibility/POI and open-knowledge-sharing - it is also part of our "office system" which we let other people dip into if they have interests that overlap one of our initiatives. The limited access area is the office system for half formed ideas, rough note that will probably be binned, references that would need explaining to outsiders, collections of links very roughly presented, and so on - things that would only cause confusion if they were shared beyond the small handful of people generating the information.

It is two years since we set up the space online. The idea was to bring together in one online space things (online activities and information about on-the-ground activities) that "we" (John Dada, Pamela McLean and our friends and contacts) were doing.

So far we have concentrated on collecting up information about John and his activities in North Central Nigeria. Nikki and I, in the UK, have discussed ongoing local work in Nigeria with John and his team in Nigeria for over two years, on a weekly basis. We have been designing structures and system to fit around his needs and make it easier for him to share information with actual and potential collaborators.

Now we are starting to bring in the POIs of others. I am starting to add information about my work. We are also starting to encourage a few other contacts, who are working on the ground in East Africa. They are in our "collaborators connect" group, and I am encouraging them to start developing their POI using the systems we have set up - and will keep developing - at dadamac net. If those people form Collaborators Connect find the systems sufficiently friendly and useful then we will invite more of our contacts to do the same.

  • 2 - Interoperability between communities*

Yes - one of the reasons I was attracted to Coalition of the Willing was because I saw it as a community with interests that overlapped the interests and concerns of some of the Dadamac community -particularly regarding local practicilites and projects related to water security, sustainability, food security, etc. Dadamac itself can also be seen as a number of separate communities sharing information and working together. Certainly we are widely distributed geographically and people are doing their own local projects. It is just online that we are coming together as one community.

  • 3 - Brokered relationships*

Yes - that's us. The way I often describe myself is "I introduce people and help them to do useful stuff". The list of introduction that I am creating at here was started simply because I recognised that I kept sharing information about people by email and needed to write brief introductions each time - it made sense to write the information publicly the first time around and simply share the link from then on. "

(Next Net mailing list, April 2011)


On the need to create a new social layer on top of internet

By François Rey

There is a plethora of social networking websites, each being like an island on the web, unconnected with the others. The real social networking will happen when all these can connect and integrate with each other. Such idea can be found in the ASN paper - Augmented Social Network (see After its publication several identity initiatives have emerged (e.g. identity commons). However I do not believe the whole ASN vision can be reached using current web technology, which is what the authors of this paper suggest when they said in 2003 "the ASN will not require a decade of intensive R&D at a cutting edge computer science laboratory, because the technology necessary for the ASN already exists, or is being developed. No engineering breakthrough is required. Rather, the challenge facing the ASN is organizational and political, not technological".

The main reason for this is that current web technology, in the way it works and in the way it is presented to the user, is still tied to the network topology. The user is very much aware of crossing boundaries between machines connected to the internet. However the network architecture and topology is completely out of touch with the reality of social networks and communities. In order to really create an augmented social network I believe we need to shift our focus one level up and start building an architecture where the network topology is completely transparent. The user should no longer feel like navigating a set of interconnected machines and have to bother with stuff like server names, ports, etc. Instead, what the user should be aware of when navigating the network are communities, their members, their boundaries, their resources, their connections, and so on. In other words we're talking about a whole application layer on top of the internet with a distributed and common object model. What a user understands as 'community' or 'network' should have a clear representative on the net regardless of the computer resources involved. Right now the concept of community does not even have a real representation on the web. All we have are sets of users of certain web sites or web resources. But where do we capture the fact that an individual is part of multiple communities? How do we specify a community by aggregation of other communities (e.g. neighborhoods aggregate into a whole city)? How do we manage communities with "moving" boundaries, e.g. those that work or have worked at a certain company? Unless we develop a new social layer on top of the web, the social networking ideals will be dead in the water because there is a complete disconnection between the computer network model and the social network reality.

However the authors of the ASN paper are right when they say “the challenge facing the ASN is organizational and political, not technological”. Indeed, building the ASN means we need to share more than what we have been used to in our competitive economy. It forces us to really collaborate and start building (innovation) commons that go against our organizational habits and strong property models. P2P technologies and Free-Libre Open Source Software are obviously the most suited models for building this ASN. Technology such as freenet, Netsukuku, and Croquet may prove to be essential in that task.

It's very common today to realize ICT (Information and Communication Technology) remove the limitations that have contributed to the predominance of hierarchical and centralized models. But most do not realize the consequence of this: ICT will be a key enabler for the new (re)forms of society. Discussions within the political and economic spheres are essential, but by no means should we occult the question on how far do we want to push the limits with technology. I would even say that when you really look at what ICT can enable, you realize we can completely redistribute the locus of power within the political, economical, and financial spheres. This can completely dismay most theories in these domains. To better understand this, one just need to realize what Skype, Napster, and email have respectively done to their respective segment, and imagine the same kind of tools in the domain of economic and financial exchange.

The real limits now are the ones we imagine."

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