Talk:Augmented Social Networks

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

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.