Title: The new 3rd degree sharing option at spaces.LIVE.com
Heralding a new beginning for the proliferation of online social networks and the learning they will require to establish and sustain trust among their contacts.
Microsoft looks like it is taking social networks very seriously. It's has newly launched its spaces.LIVE.com personal online social network service and it has already become one of the biggest. But it's not the usual services of email, chat, journal, blogging, feedback, music and photos that is really new here. What I wish to point out is something of a turning point in the concept of social networking. Something that has been proposed for a long time.
The principle focus of this article is reflected in an open source software project called "friend of a friend". I gratefully refer you to http://www.foaf-project.org/ which Microsoft should bother to acknowledge. That is, if it wishes to gain valuable currency in a modern cultural revolution. I'm describing that revolution as a "proliferation and learning among extended trust networks". Honestly and ironically, I don't expect Microsoft to be fit enough for this revolution, although it is still significant in augmenting it at this stage. I seriously doubt Microsoft will be appropriately adaptive enough to survive the change brought about by its own soft ware making.
Until very recently, when using the Microsoft Messenger software, for online chat services, when we enter our personal details, we are asked whether we wish to share our identity information. In the set up and settings of our online personal profile, we are offered the option of sharing our personal information with our personal contacts only, or optionally, we can also share our personal information with the public. Because Microsoft is now growing its successful messenger service into a component of it's new social network service, when we click to update the messenger chatting profile, we are now taken online to Microsoft's new website called spaces.LIVE.com.
Since online chatting and social networks are not the same beast, you can expect some changes. What do you understand from the following sharing option at spaces.LIVE.com?
"... your friends, your mutual friends and their mutual friends, and people on your Messenger allow list can see your information."
What blows my mind is the "mutual friends and their mutual friends" option. Until now information sharing with in the Messenger software was limited to 1 degree of sharing, that is with "your friends" only (also called contacts), or optionally to also share your information with out limits, openly with the public. To be sure, the domain called "the public", is several degrees removed from the limitation that we call "friends" or "contacts".
Also we differentiate between our friends with whom we tend to share more trust and with our "contacts". No matter how many friends you learn to relate with or how many contacts you learn to manage, you will never be able to befriend or manage "the public", not in the usual sense anyway. Sure a person or an organization can receive new contacts, it can also publish or publisize certain select information, but publishing is not the same as sharing personal information with friends or contacts.
In the sphere of intentional or deliberate social networking, we may wish to grow our contact base by way of introduction to our friend's friends (read FOAF). We would usually need to click through to a friend's or contact's profile and if our contact has chosen to share their list of friends with us, we could then discover their contacts and ask for a reciprocal connection (this is usual in social network services, but has not been available in Messenger software).
But now in the extension of Messenger with spaces.live.com, the new contact permission will also revolutionize social network services. We are now being offered the option, to immediately share our private information with people we have never met, but whom our friends and friends of friends have met! This introduction proposes a faster method than the current practice of deliberate browsing of our friends to discover our 2nd degree contacts (friends of friends).
These new layers of association are now redefining the meaning of what is considered an online social network or an extended circle of trust. Through the trust of our current direct contacts we can further extend that trust to the contacts of theirs, and again to a third degree beyond our circle of direct contact. This proposed multi level mechanism of contact linking use to occur much more slowly and thoughtfully. Your contacts would, through a more deliberate process of association, introduce you to their contacts.
Current social network software deliberately makes that process of introducing new associations easier, by more apparently presenting a list of the persons friends and shared interests. Social network services augment networks by this assisted presentation of your contact list, in your online profile. In the culture of online social networks, the introduction of new contacts is just 1 click away. Now with the popularity leveraged by the Microsoft messenger and this daring proposal in sharing permissions, a 3rd degree of association can take place in less than 3 deliberate clicks away. 3 degrees of association can occur in just 1 optional click at spaces.LIVE.com!
Interestingly adjoined to this significant news, is the new ZUNE MP3 music player, a concept designed by Microsoft and partner built by Toshiba. What is new about this MP3 music player is that it will also have your messenger contact list. Why? Asthe news article explains, your contact list is there to make it easier to share your music and photos with them. Hmm, so where do you think that is going? This new MP3 music player, is actually a wireless network device and is being made deliberately for sharing content and information through a social network contact list. Do you see the connection? It's a portable hardware device to extend the spaces.LIVE.com social network service. Ok, so it's also a social network service while providing a new delivery mechanism for selling limited season portable computer hardware, software licences, music licences and advertising impressions.
My other tech favourite subject, that this 3rd degree option will impact significantly, and which very much relates to augmenting personal social networks, is the application of exchange networks. Specifically the networks using local currencies. Social networks would seem to be the most robust mechanism for inter-networking these different trust groups and their currencies. Among the necessities of regular and complementary (local) currencies, is that they require exchange opportunities beyond a direct barter and beyond a personal contact agreement. Currency needs to be able to ripple further into 2nd and 3rd degree opportunities for speedier transactions and feedback, like discovery for demand.
Anonymity can increase currency liquidity, reducing the extensive evaluation otherwise required by reputation. Anonymous universaly accepted Federal paper money, is favoured in the black and grey markets, for speed of movement and ease of restrictions. Like majority rule in voting or generalizing the results of anonymous popularity polling. More complex and accurate evaluation would require a rather longer and more challenging accountable and "toward consensus" processes. What could be better than being stuck with a dominant centralized authority that must continually seek honest reporting and punishes crime? An alternative mechanism for an ongoing and progressive reform, away from centralized bureaucracy and towards a diverse solution, one that provides information validation and fraud prevention, is the wide scale participation and development of reputation profiles. Reputation feedback has often been known in exchange markets as buyer and seller ratings. For profile presentation and feedback to be current and relevant profiles need to remain under constant and dynamic peer review. For Currency, the medium or the process of exchange requires liquidity beyond a single transaction, an extended network of feedback indicating interest or demand and a responsive dispute correction mechanism.
A common example of what is considered the agreed interest and medium of exchange in the more personal social networks is email, chat, personal journal entries, feedback, photos and music. Some network services focus on romantic or sexual dating, connecting those old long lost school mates or professional career opportunities and hobby associations. These interests groups each offer and facilitate trade or exchange in their specific valued interests. Interests and value appreciation are the working currencies of these social networks. But it won't stop there. Economic Higher Consumption Reward Points, Prepaid Spending Credits and Long Term Commitment Loyalty Programs will collide with these other revolutionary personal, social and interests group currencies.
Once an exchange has taken place, the reference or referral for new 2nd and 3rd degree sharing or exchange has a domino effect, toppling step after step, further and further away from the initiative that first offered and accepted it. In another straight line analogy, currency is like a flat smooth rock, once thrown, it can bounce upon the surface of a placid lake. So proposing information sharing at 2nd and 3rd degrees will accelerate this exchange. 3 degrees of information sharing provides much higher liquidity, faster movement, going beyond direct contact, barter or careful one to one agreement.
Liquidity and proliferation do not automatically occur with a blank open broadcast to the network or to the public, because when offering or requesting at an unmoderated open or public level, the question of quality or relevance has not yet been satisfactorily answered by the potential recipients. The question of quality and relevance sits firmly inside the larger concept of reputation, the reputation of offer and acceptance. Reputation is the 3rd component of any model network of trust and exchange.
Until now, local currencies and social networks worked on the simple joining process of registering a new friend, which extended the existing branches of the old trust lists. It's like a big shared contact list, analogous to a big tree of trust or an interconnected forest of trust and exchange. Until now local currency and interest sharing groups were often like regular offline communities, with lists of members. Those members are often grounded and growing in grass root organizations, hobbled together by 1 and 2 degrees of introduction linking. Which is much slower but a more certain method for answering for quality and relevance or the question of reputation which obviously communities of interest require.
Another problem is that, often, there are too few de-coupling processes. The introduction link and its link breaking options are not enough of a correction mechanism. It's not a real time trust circle extending into more overlapping trust circles. Membership starts and grows with introductions (sponsorship) and then it becomes an old list, that just keeps growing with out enough concern for a possible lack of trust. A concern for the same trust that was initially established through the introduction process. The continued integrity of introduction links and contact links are not a continual part of the process of trust correction. Now with the 2nd and 3rd degree options in social networking services, these links of integrity will become more relevant.
Local currencies will flourish much faster, yes, but only tentatively, as many of those links will also break with the discovery of link irrelevance or dissatisfaction. I am not assuming that Microsoft or any for profit business will support the idea of Link integrity as an important counter to growth, as much as it will propose the proliferation of easier link making first. Integrity will become more relevant despite the initial failures of Microsoft and other for profit social networks. For profit business models are unashamed to admit, that to provide a satisfying service, is a short term means to a greater end, the increase of market share, capitalization and profit. As long as new customers can be acquired, growth is not a problem. The question will long remain, it seems, as to whether a growth priority model can provide a social network in which link integrity is required to check unsustainable growth. We are therefore talking about the model most effective for facilitating on the one hand extensive networks and on the other hand match making contacts of relevance, trust and value appreciation.
While Microsoft might not be appropriate in the long term, to provide social network services. We are, none the less, talking about solving the problem of providing an internal mechanism with in the social network service. Unsustainable contact making will be corrected with demands for link integrity, as long as people respond with their need for integrity. Comparable to the theory that democracy involves free speech and a free market, free from an over centralization of authority (law, permission and licence regulation) and free from the monopoly of market manipulation. The 3rd degree option can be understood as a grass roots and dynamic personal profile switch or lever. An option that switches on higher connectivity from the personal contact domain, extending 2 and 3 degrees and there after in others further into the unknown public domain. This option of higher connectivity will need to be met with its complementary tension, that of sustaining extensive trust, relevance and value appreciation.
This dynamic tension is a serious problem that will force a counter shift from the current online model. The current model does not give our profile management enough access to 2nd and 3rd degree linking. At present, through obscuring the more complex unseen levels of linking, for profit network providers have deliberately pushed connection rates higher, primarily to increase advertising eyeballs or product sales. The higher connectivity with in the profile contact permissions will create a new tension, with the more obvious need for integrity, that of contact relevance. This will shift the current dominant model toward the more relevant psychological, ethical and social questions of integrity. This shift is a significant stage in the cultural revolution, that of augmented social networks, which I have been interested in for a few years now. This change can only come about through participation, within our actual online and offline trust circles and networks. If you care to look, you will see this revolution evolving everywhere.
So with optimism, I say we have only just begun talking, on an open social level we have only begun to openly evaluate our extensive social networks seriously. We meet the serious problem of discovering and responding to just what we choose to share and with whom, and under what permissions. The riddles of complexity jostling and shuffling our inter-networking society has not yet been solved. What has just begun is the challenge of providing an accounting system that could provide feedback for extended degrees of contact. A more complex social network system, with greater range of permissions and options, relevant and accessible to the participating profile. Such a system will eventually, by demand, need to support and track the learning which this connectedness requires. What happens when sharing with others, at up to 3 degrees of contact? This is not specifically an online network question, so much as an inquiry in to the modern social inter-dependency phenomenon. The current answer to modern social complexity is often to simplify personal life through centralization, anonymity and post dispute assistance, which is not ideal.
By developing extensive, multi degree, social network services, society and each person can utilize a very powerful new tool. The types of information gathering and analysis usually only available to larger profit and control driven institutions. We will have the opportunity to network and communicate easier and faster, while still maintaining the correction mechanism that all learning demands. Now that we have the option to share immediately at 3 levels, we will need to learn how to use it. Microsoft, as a service provider (as-well as each person and each co-operative interest group), will have to accept the integrity question with even more consideration. Integrity will avalanche with liquidity, cascading with consequences. We all have just suddenly met our modern society head on, having given people access to their 2nd and 3rd degrees of contact.
This brings up the third leg of the tripod which I have been calling reputation profiles. Reputations need to reflect what the owner intends to share, to offer and accept, and at the same time, what everyone else considers relevant. What others consider significant about another profile, what they think this person represents. Externally, a profile represents some collection of information and an accessible form of communication, that grasps the profiles value appreciation's, an exchange history and the most likely patterns they will provide in sharing or providing in another exchange. We all do this in our own way, all the time in our offline worlds. But having an online service to manage that complexity is a serious challenge. Social networking or extended circles of trust, their exchange currencies, and the internal and external forms of embedded reputation profiles can't be separated. They just have to become more obvious as we learn what they represent and we will need to learn how to communicate authentically through them. Sounds like a tough challenge?
Which brings me back to the more difficult subject I mentioned just now. That of bridging the internal and external aspects of a reputation profile. That of communicating authentically from with in the profile. What does the identity actually intend to represent? Which might not be identical to the external profile that is developed from feedback and the external evaluation networks provide. So, I'll say it again, we are faced with the challenge of investing significant energy and personal time to learn how to communicate our various values and appreciation's. We will need to maintain a relationship developing an integrity between what we intend and how we are understood. How we are understood comes significantly from what we would consider as the consequences of our intentions, communications or actions. For without feedback, what are the social consequences of outwardly directed intentions?
This is where the aspect of the embedded profile takes greater significance and resting can take place, located in a sense of profile centring. A profile, resting, embedded in its relations will be an important counter force balancing creative forces for change. Rest from this type of evaluation work, the internal and external bridging, will only occur with in the more sustainable and intimate spirals that centre our extended circles of trust. To rest is to be held among, with in, intimate reflective trust. Rest, for this type of profile, is just being and sharing, not competing in any new creative exchanges or demands for reconciling old exchanges. This type of profile rest, from the demands of pending external exchange, is the harbour or refuge, in which new inner value currencies take on relational form, find more subtle substance and discover their complementary shared place. Can this ever occur at spaces.LIVE.com?
Social network participation and the economic, social and psychological sense of validation that it might provide, which will be represented through the embedded reputation profile, is of no small consequence. It is a modern cultural revolution. We are facing a peek of exploration, a turning and a tipping point both for the experiential participants and for the evolution of society as a whole. I'm sure the currency reform issue, which might be challenging for many, will soon impact our economic lives more and more as well. I will not explore this article further right now though, as I have spent the whole day on this article, besides talking and chatting (Skype.com) with Liat Sokal, who is in a remote village in Brazil, for many hours and I have not yet eaten a morsel today. So stay tuned, there is more to come (with in and with out me).
2006 08 27
(6 am to 9pm)
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