So that’s what a Social Graph is!

Tim Berners-Lee (one of the architects of the Internet) has published a post (licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 license) talking about what he sees as a Social Graph and what we are starting to call the Semantic Web.  What I appreciate is his explanation of this term "graph" which has been bandied about so much in social networking circles that it seems to have lost its meaning before it had a meaning for me:

The Net we normally use as short for Internet, which is the International Information Infrastructure. Al Gore promoted the National Information Infrastructure (NII) presumably as a political pragma at the time, but clearly it became International. So let’s call it III. Let’s think about the Net now as an invention which made life simpler and more powerful. It made it simpler because of having to navigate phone lines from one computer to the next,you could write programs as though the net were just one big cloud, where messages went in at your computer and came out at the destination one. The realization was, "It isn’t the cables, it is the computers which are interesting". The Net was designed to allow the computers to be seen without having to see the cables.

The word Web we normally use as short for World Wide Web. The WWW increases the power we have as users again. The realization was "It isn’t the computers, but the documents which are interesting". Now you could browse around a sea of documents without having to worry about which computer they were stored on. Simpler, more powerful. Obvious, really.

Also, it allowed unexpected re-use. People would put a document on the web for one reason, but it would end up being found by people using it in completely different ways. Two delights drove the Web: one of being told by a stranger your Web page has saved their day, and the other of discovering just the information you need and for which you couldn’t imagine someone having actually had the motivation to provide it.

So the Net and the Web may both be shaped as something mathematicians call a Graph, but they are at different levels. The Net links computers, the Web links documents.

After this point the discussion because a little complicated for me at this late hour.  What I understood was Berners-Lee advocating a kind of RSS-style social stream that can be plugged into different services.  I like the idea of this because it would mean I don’t have to add all my feeds to a new aggregation service when one comes along.  Here I am thinking about services like Jaiku and Plaxo Pulse. 

In fact, there is a little niggle I have with Pulse at the moment.  It has been expanded to include professional and personal profiles which ask questions like what my favourite books/movies/music is/are as well as my professional history.  The thing is, I have answered those questions already on Facebook, Orkut, LinkedIn.  I don’t want to rehash all that again now for Pulse.  What I’d like to be able to do is to say to Pulse "Here is my feed detailing my professional career, import that and you will have a complete profile, just like my other sites …" and have all that information shared without me having to re-type everything.

I am sure this sort of thing will happen soon enough but this seems to be the sort of thing Berners-Lee is talking about in his post.  That is, if I understood it all.

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