People RDF

Accidental friendships

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I tried out one of the applications for Google’s new Social Graph API. The application looks for XFN or a FOAF file connected to your weblog to see who you connect to, and who connects to you.

I don’t have XFN or a FOAF file. I did have one once, though, under my old URL,, so I tried that URL. No connections outward, of course, since I haven’t had a FOAF file for quite a while. There were, however, a few connections incoming. Just a few–alas, I am so friendless in this friend-saturated environment.

All but one of the incoming connections were from people I know well, though unlike stated in one connection, I’ve not physically met. The only unknown in the list was I have no idea who this is and I don’t necessarily recommend that you click the link, either.

The concept of some global space to pull together friends and colleagues does sound intriguing except that, as we’ve discussed in the past in regards to FOAF files, the linkage is one way. Unless both parties maintain a FOAF file and list each other equally, the one-way connection implies nothing.

However, taking this information out of this context removes the known FOAF caveat and we’re left with applications taking a connection at face value: I have physically met Phil, is a ‘friend’. More importantly, as the years go by our ‘connections’ do change, yet we’ve long known that Google is unwilling to give up any ‘old’ data. I can imagine joining some new social network only to find out the network has sent an invite to be ‘friends’ with the woman who fired you, or the former boyfriend you went through a painful breakup with.

I think the idea of social networks consuming or producing a FOAF file so you can move your ‘social graph’ around from network to network is a good idea. Persisting such information in a centralized store where you have no control over the data does not strike me as …a major step in the development of what I’ve called “the Internet Operating System.” (And what’s with the eblog without the ‘w’ and why is Norm Walsh claiming to be me?)

From what I can see of the associated group forum, I am not the only person raising concerns about the application. (Hey Julian, hey Danny–why aren’t you my friends?) There’s surprisingly few messages in this group considering the fooflah this new application has generated in the buzz sheets. One message mentioned about utilizing this in their medical research, which reminded me that Google now wants to collect health information about all of us in the future, too.

FOAF Papa Dan Brickley and Danny Ayers both say this is the start of interesting times. I agree that there is something interesting about the first web-wide aggregation of semantically annotated data. My concerns are about the focus has been on the data and the functionality, with little consideration of the consequences.

I would also hate to think that the only semantic web possible is one controlled by Google, because it’s the only company with the resources necessary to aggregate all of the separate bits.

On a separate note: Hey! How about that Microsoft/Yahoo thing?

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