Social Networks

Entries related to social networks, group psychology, anthropology, and really any of the social sciences.

The Orkut Virus and Scripts

Last night, I received five scrapbook entries on Orkut saying, “2008 vem ai... que ele comece mto bem para vc”. I’m not sure what that means, if anything, and it surely isn’t something my five friends would have sent me, especially not all at the same time. So I did a little digging.

It appears as if a script hit Orkut last night. The details are a bit sketchy, but apparently if you bring up the scrapbook page with one of these viral scraps in it, it would send that message to all of your friends and join you to a group, ‘Infectados pelo Vírus do Orkut’. Last night, that had 396,849 members. This morning, it is at 690,513 members. The problem is that you cannot unjoin this group.

Google appears to be deleting these scraps as fast as they could and the five scraps were deleted from my scrapbook as well as the one that the virus sent to my wife.

A way to protect against this is to turn off Javascript in its entirety, or to add a tool that partially turn off scripts. I chose the later option, using a Firefox addon called NoScript. It allows you to chose which domains can run scripts and which ones can’t.

Spock, part 2

Beth Kanter is expressing second thoughts about Spock. She points to a post by Nancy White where Nancy simply says Ick! And Please, don’t invite me to Spock. Nancy points to posts my Jim Benson about his initial response to Spock and his suggestion that It may be the evil Spock.

I’ve read the concerns. I’ve thought about them in the context of the discussions on Reputation Economies in Cyberspace (RepEcon) and I have to say that I still like Spock. I think the concerns are overstated.

The first concern is that Spock has gone out and scraped websites, including LinkedIn, MySpace and others. This does not bother me. I am very conscious that the information that I’ve put on sites like LinkedIn and MySpace is very public information. In my case, I’ve been deliberate about what I put up there. I like to take an active role in attempting to manage my reputation online. To me, Spock’s aggregation of this information and the ability for me to tag and rate the information is a good thing.

I find it curious that some of the critics are the same people that argue for using open protocols to do similar sort of things, cross linking social networks, and this gets to a key initial criticism. Spock is not as open as open source purists might like. To tie this back to RepEcon, we have the question of who owns reputation data online? Who has the right to modify it? It seems like Spock is doing a good job in handling who gets to modify information, but the aspects of who owns the underlying information has not been dealt with well. Perhaps if I could import and export data as hCards and FOAF, and other formats, I would feel a little better about it.

Another concern is about how Spock will read your address books and send invites based on them, if you allow them to. I’ve invited people using my address books and found that Spock has been very respectful of who I want to invite and who I don’t want to invite. I don’t recall if I sent an invite to Nancy. If I did, it was before I read her post and I apologize. Related to that is the concern about how you have to sign up to be able to make changes. Personally, I think that is a good thing. It makes the system more trustworthy. Hey, if you find things you don’t like about yourself on Spock and you’re a friend of mine, drop me a note. I’ll make changes for you if you don’t want to join.

My bigger concerns, which I’ve touched on before is Spock’s inability to recognize context. Quirky might be a very accurate and relevant tag for me, within the family dining room context. By it might be completely inaccurate and irrelevant within the context of financial services consulting. Another aspect of context is time. Longhaired would have been an accurate tag for me years ago. Balding is more accurate now. Right now, I think I’m tagged as brown-haired. Yet that is rapidly changing to gray-haired, for those hairs that remain.

Likewise, context is ignored in trust relationships. As I noted before I trust Deborah for information about nonprofit information technology, but not for recommendations on the best sports car to buy. For that matter, I would love to see the ability to rank the trusts, perhaps on a scale of 1 to 10. Put simply, there are some people I trust more than other people.

So, is Spock all that it could be? Well “Be all that you can be” was the slogan of the U.S. Army for many years. I hope that it isn’t part of some U.S. Intelligence effort to spy citizens, but if it ends up having useful information, I expect they will want to use it. That digression aside, no, Spock is not all that it could be. On the other hand, they’ve only been around for a little while, and hopefully, they are getting the kinks worked out.


Yes, I couldn’t resist offering ‘Fascinating’ as my response to a question I received on Facebook about my thoughts on Spock. Beyond the trekkie humor, there is a lot that is fascinating about Spock.

Spock is one of the newer social network sites. It scrapes the web to build profiles of people. There are other sites that have done similar things, but perhaps less effectively. What makes Spock interesting is the way relevance of information is determined. People can go in and vote on how relevant pieces of information, such as tags, websites, photographs, and so, are. There is some secret ranking based on these votes; how useful the votes were and how much they agree with other people voting.

All of this ties nicely back to the symposium on reputation economies that I attended recently. Users have some control over their reputations. Star Wars Kid and Dog Poop Girl could vote on certain information about them not being relevant. It might not be enough to stem the tide, but for smaller reputational events, it could have significance.

One aspect that seems to be missing from Spock is context. A recent quote that my daughter put up about me illustrates this. We have great fun around our family dining room table. Discussions range from the profound to the quirky; often providing a wonderful mix of both. Mairead has attributed a quote, “Well, the barbie princess had a long, hard day at work...” to me. I do not remember having said that, but it does sound like something that might have come up around our dinner table.

That quote is not relevant to the persona that I present as a political activist or as financial services technologist. Yet it is very relevant to my persona as a father with a strange sense of humor. Since most people looking at my Spock page will be looking at me in terms of my political activism or my work with technology and financial services, it is tempting to remove the quote. Yet it is relevant in one context, and I would hate to damage my daughter’s ‘Spock Power’ by removing something that is relevant to her context but not the context of a majority of visitors.

A friend of mine who wrote me asking for my thoughts about Spock said,

I’ve got some rather mixed thoughts these days of putting too much info online, but wondering if it's necessary for business. I've had some other soc. network invites too that I'm hesitant to get involved with--just don't know if it's necessary or important to join them.

One of my first thoughts is from Tom Friedman’s comment about everything being possible on the Internet and the question is, will you do it, or will someone else do it to you. In my friend’s case, there are already three different entries about her. One points to her LinkedIn page. Another points to a biography at a conference site. I do believe that my friend should get on Spock, as well as some other social network sites, and take a more active role in attempting to manage her reputation. Reputation management is important for business, and my sense is that Spock may become an important aggregator.

So, I continue to explore Spock. I attempt to connect with contacts via Spock. I even try to boost my Spock Power a little bit, and am envious of friends, and even my daughter, who have much better Spock Power. Live long, and prosper.

Symposium on Reputation Economies in Cyberspace

Who can think of a more exciting way to spend a Saturday in December than sitting around Yale Law School listening to a bunch of legal gurus talk about issues of reputation in Cyberspace?

True, Fiona thought it would be more interesting to spend the day with her Papa and Nanna. Kim felt obliged to travel to New Hampshire to go door-to-door canvassing for John Edwards. However, I’m sure they recognized the importance of the symposium I was at.

I must admit, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I showed up, and I’m not sure that I can do justice to the symposium with this little blog post which I’m trying to quickly write during the Gallery Opening in Second Life before Fiona gets home.

There are many issues about reputations as they exist in cyberspace, and there were frequent references to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Trademark law, Intellectual Property, various torts, specific cases, such as ABDUL JABBAR v GENERAL MOTORS and so on. A quick summary just isn’t possible. As I get time, I’ll write up more thoughts about that, as well as about some of the very interesting side discussions that took place.

So, can I come up with a quick summary? Well, we talked about establishing a cyber-reputation, and the role of privacy in protecting that reputation. We looked at assessing the quality of a reputation, and who ones what portions of a reputation. Discussions ranged from Dog Poop Girl and Star Wars Kid to *30 Reasons Girls Should Call It A Night*. I do wonder if Star Wars Kid can rid the world of drunken girls putting too much information up on Facebook or other girls that allow their dogs to leave too much behind on the subway.

Perhaps the most interesting observation was the idea that Facebook and related systems for managing reputations online are this Millennium’s equivalent of the Doomsday Book.

At the end of the symposium, Eddan Katz stopped short of saying, “See you next year.” I should have digested much of the information from this years symposium, so if I get a vote, it would be for Information Society Project to run another symposium on reputation economies in cyberspace next year.

Accreditation, Participation, and Reputation

This coming Saturday, I will be attending a symposium sponsored by Yale Law School’s Information Society Project on Reputation Economies in Cyberspace. As part of preparing for this, I thought I would explore how reputations in cyberspace reflect to my planned attendance.

Last January, I attended a Journalism That Matters conversation in Memphis, where I met Eddan Katz. Eddan is the executive director of the Information Society Project, and we had a great discussion. So, the reputation first person I’ve interacted with from the symposium wasn’t established in cyberspace, but was established offline. However, it was through relationships established online that I ended up at the Journalism That Matters conversation in the first place.

When we moved to Woodbridge, the next town over from Yale’s campus in New Haven, I got in touch with Eddan and let him know I was in the neighborhood as well and communicated a little bit with him, online, about Avery Doninger’s case. It was through this that I found out about the symposium.

I RSVPed to the symposium’s event in Facebook and my wife added the event to our family calendar. Yesterday, like everyone else that RSVPed on Facebook that they would be attending the event, I receive a message asking me to register for the conference.

After I registered, I checked the list of attendees on Facebook. Who, amongst my friends on Facebook, were attending the symposium? Who was attending that I knew, but hadn’t added as a friend? Upon reflection, I think this is interesting. I checked the attendees before I checked the list of speakers. This ties, I believe, to Dan Gillmor’s comments about his audience knowing more about what he writes about than he does. I suspect there are going to be some very bright people in the audience. It was only after this that I looked at the panels; their topics and speakers.

The first panel is entitled, “Making your name online!” and will focus on “the transition from accreditation to participatory, community-based modes of reputation management.” I found this interesting in light of the registration process. I have registered as a member of the press. It is always interesting to see what groups recognize bloggers as members of the press. On the registration form for members of the press, it notes, “Certification required”. Is this certification something from an accredited institution or can the certification be based on some “participatory, community-based mode of reputation management”?

I glanced at the list of names of the panelists. None of them jumped out at me, although I suspect that if I were more involved in more of the academic discourse, the names would mean much more to me. The majority of the speakers were identified in terms of their involvement with accredited higher education institutions.

Yes, we may be moving from a reputation model based on accreditation to one based on participation, but the lines are blurry. Accreditation is based on participation and provides a useful shortcut. There are plenty of other issues such as privacy, quality of the reputation systems, and portability of reputations that will also be discussed. It looks like it will be a very interesting symposium. If you can make it, please do, and drop me a message on Facebook.

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