FOAF Girl!

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Have a brand shiny new FOAF file? Don’t waste your time with small, tasteful little icons.

Show your stuff. Show the world that you’re proud of being FOAF’ed.


FOAF Girl!


(borrowed from

Social Media

I wanna hold your hand

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

Networks of friends, or at least people that know each other, seem to be very popular lately – I had two invitations yesterday to two different ‘friends’ networks. While I appreciate the thought and the invitation – I really do – I declined both; not because I don’t care for the people, but because I don’t care for these networks.

(Not the least of which was because of the increased spam email I started receiving after joining Friendster.)

AKMA also doesn’t care for these networks, but this is primarily because he sees them as a dating service; though I’m sure that Margaret supports his explorations into social software, there is a limit to how far one takes one’s explorations.

(That’s also one of my objections, though I’m not married. Since my experiences with online relationships of a tender nature haven’t been very positive, I’m also not interested in anything to do with meeting people online for purposes of ‘romance’. If I’m going to meet a lemon, I prefer to see the peel upfront.)

AKMA has, however, created his own FOAF file, starting out with people he knows already have a FOAF file of their own, such as my own. I’ve also added AKMA to mine, using the Add a New Friend tool.

FOAF, or Friend-of-a-Friend is an RDF vocabulary that allows you to provide some basic information about yourself, such as a a photo and a primary web site. It also allows you to document who you know, and connect with their FOAF files if they have them, in a loose network of associations.

FOAF is one of the older RDF Vocabularies, but one that the creators have been quietly working with for a couple of years. Now, though, as the creators are finding, there’s a whole new level of interest in FOAF. The spotlight is on, time for FOAF to dance.

What are some of the uses of FOAF? Well, Technorati has recently added the technology to incorporate a FOAF profile for your weblog, as you can see from my Cosmos links. If you look down the list you’ll see photos of some folks – these are photosof people who have claimed their weblogs via the new Technorati profile system. However, the photos are not pulled from the FOAF file but must be uploaded separately, which is why you’ll see my photo linked into my FOAF file, but not into Technorati.

Cool use of technology, but what good will it be? Well, that’s the million dollar question now – what good is all of this going to be?

From a technology perspective, the more that FOAF is used to identify a ‘person’ in all of our technologies and vocabularies, the better we’ll be at pulling together information from various sources. Right now, if we add FOAF author information to syndication feeds, we could tie together the syndication feed information for a person in their profile within Technorati or any other aggregator. If we add FOAF information to a person’s comments, we could then pull together a chain of information such as the following:

Shelley Powers

aka Burningbird


Has linked to the following people in the last 48 hours:
Has written the following entries in the last 48 hours:
Has written the following comments in the last 48 hours:

And the list goes on and on – who do I know? How do I know them? What have I said, and where?

If you’re salivating from a pure information point of view, or from a technology point of view, I would hope at this point that you’re hesitating from a purely social and privacy perspective – because the easier we make this information to access, the less privacy we have. There’s a cost to this information being readily available.

When I added Talkback, the feature that allows you to see what a person has said in previous comments here, there was some discomfort associated with this. Now take this and consider the possibility that all comments you make in all online media – weblogs, usenet, Yahoo Groups, even IRC – can be tracked and gathered back to you, in one little spot. All through the innocent device of putting together a little XML into a FOAF file. Think it won’t happen? The implementation of this is trivial – all it will take is for FOAF to be enabled at each spot, and with the FOAFbot, it already exists for the IRC community.

Perhaps this is a good thing, you say. After all, if a person wants to be anonymous in some comments, they shouldn’t use their real name. The thing, though, is that IP addresses are captured with most of this information. If you comment at this MT weblog using this IP address, and this information is included in a syndication feed, then anywhere else this IP address is used that day will be tracked back to you. There is little anonymity on the Net other than that originally provided by fragmentation. Bring out the glue and kiss your privacy good-bye.

Shadows of Ashcroft and the Patriot Act aside – after all, this only applies in the States, and none of us are very important, so nobody cares about us, right? – there are other social implications.

For instance, FOAF has a verb that defines how you are acquainted with a person – knows. The reason the vocabulary only has the one verb is that there is no ‘value’ judgement attached to this, and hopefully no cause for hurt feelings. But new extensions change all that, and add the nuances that may end up biting us in the butt.

How close am I to these people? Who is a ‘good’ friend’ as compared to an acquaintance? Who do I trust…and why? When I say in my FOAF file that I consider a person a ‘good friend’, how do I feel when I read in their FOAF file that they only consider me an acquaintance?

Add a Friend adds friends, but how do I delete them?

Think you can control the FOAF information? Think again. What happens when someone finds an old photo of me online and attaches it to my ‘knows’ record in their FOAF file? How about if they do the same with my phone numbers? My job? My home address? This is perfectly legitimate – I don’t have to be the one to add the information about myself, others can do this for me, about me, and it validates as ‘good’ FOAF, good RDF/XML.

How about if I had a young daughter who goes online and creates a FOAF file. New extensions being talked about discuss adding in age, movements, clubs, and social organizations – want all this information online about your young, pretty, innocent little girl or boy?

Heck with that – do want this information online about yourself?

Remember that FOAF is nothing more than a vocabulary, serialized in XML. There is no gatekeeper with it. None. Then the question becomes – How do I delete myself from all these systems once my information is dispersed far and wide?

(More at Practical RDF.)

Update: Wanna bet I get a ’stop energy’ label attached because I brought up these questions?


FOAF and Web of Trust

Marc Cantor recently sent an email to the RDFWeb-Dev mailing list regarding FOAF. I chatted with Marc about this offline, and also the concept of ‘verification’ of FOAF relationships.

The social aspects of the increased interest in FOAF, I’ll discuss in the Burningbird weblog, but there are some RDF components I wanted to touch on here.

For instance, Marc mentions setting some relationships as ’standard’, such as the following:

– they are acquainted with somebody
– they know somebody by reputation
– they know somebody in passing
– or that they don’t know somebody, but wish to

First, there is no ’standard’ with this effort – even RDF is a specification and not a standard, as with all W3C efforts. Secondly, when Marc discusses ‘extending’ the vocabulary, he’s not necessarily aware of the fact that the whole point on an XML vocabulary being based on the RDF model is that anyone can create their own vocabulary and combine it with FOAF if they so choose – the original FOAF vocabularly doesn’t have to be ‘extended’. FOAF, and in fact all RDF vocabularies are not the same as RSS 2.0.

In fact, any time there’s extensions in the world of XML, problems occur, so extensions and versions should be discouraged at all costs. Clarifications are good – extensions, and in particular, modifications and deletions are bad.

The relationships that Marc refers to are not coming from FOAF but from another vocabulary, what looks like a Relationship vocabulary. They’re being picked up through the increased use of several of the FOAF Tools including the Add-a-Friend.

What the FOAF folks are going to have to decide is exactly what it is that they’re describing. Just like with RSS, the proponents end up including items within the vocabulary just because it’s handy. For instance, there’s discussion about adding address and movement information – but what does this have to do with Friend-of-a-Friend?

The key to a successful RDF/XML vocabulary is to keep it small, and to the point, and focused on the data of the business of the vocabulary. The FOAF creators know this, and I know that this new found enthusiasm for FOAF won’t push them into rushing extensions into FOAF that are ill-thought. Dan Brickley’s already posted some good responses back to Marc, as has Morten Frederiksec.

It will be interesting to see what Marc has in mind for this, in particular from a ‘verification’ point of view. Whatever FOAF is, it isn’t the Web of Trust, and that’s got me a bit concerned at this point – folks trying to make it into such.
BLOG NAME: Burningbird
TITLE: I wanna hold your hand
DATE: 07/23/2003 07:07:08 AM
Networks of friends, or at least people that know each other, seem to be very popular lately – I had two invitations yesterday to two different ‘friends’ networks. While I appreciate the thought and the invitation – I really do – I declined both; no…


Want to be Wayward?

We’re looking at opening the doors for the Wayward Weblogger co-op here in the next few weeks. Still having to work issues through, and still helping some of the original group make their move. The issue of permalinks and using different weblogging tools becomes more obvious all the time.

I also posted my first rough draft of the look and feel for the at the co-op weblog. Thanks to Ben from my comments, I’m getting help with Blosxom, so there’s hope for me yet.

So much technology to play with, so much to write, so little time…


Centralization? No

Since the talk this week is going to be on weblogging portability – you can see it in the air, you can smell it in the wind, this is the topic this week – might as well continue the discussion I started in the last posting. In fact, I should move my Weblogging for Poets permalink essay up and write it here rather than wait until I get the weblogs going.

For now though, John Robb comes up with the following in regards to weblogging portability:

I would start with single repository of weblogs where the owner of the weblog can change the location of their weblog and other descriptive data by signing into an account. This service would need to be tightly controlled and trusted. If you don’t own the domain, your hosting company or hosting sponsor would need to support the account creation.

John then sees this repository being used by the weblogging tools as a way of checking to see who is moved. A centralized repository of weblog domains? Not a chance.

As stated in the last posting, you should use your own domain name for your weblog, you really should. With this you can move from host to host and literally take your weblog with you. However, if you find yourself someday kicked out of your hosting service, say at or or any number of other hosted services, then the best way to advertise that you’re moved is just how John’s doing it – use the weblogs and pass the information via word of mouth…urh…blog.

Using a centralized DNS wannabe morphed weblog finder to solve the problems of moving away from a centralized host, is not the answer to this particular problem.