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Preview: Web Dawn - Rebirth of the Social Marketplace

Web Dawn - Rebirth of the Social Marketplace

Published: 2004-04-25T11:09:27-05:00


Trust, Recommender Systems, and Social Software


That's what is says at the top of Paolo Massa's blog: "Ramblings on Trust, Recommender Systems, Social Software, and much more." Wow, isn't that a great combination? Personally, I believe that the combination of these things has the potential to become a major new direction for the social web and the new social marketplace. With entries like Soft Trust and Hard Trust and Evaluating Collaborative Filtering Recommender Systems, Paolo discusses these foundations of the social web of the future. He's not just rambling about these things, however, he is also studying them at the PHD level. An example is a PHD research proposal titled Trust-Aware Decentralized Recommender Systems. Admittedly, I haven't read the 20-page propsal yet, but with a title like that, I certainly plan to. It will probably end up as the topic of a future Web Dawn entry. Personally, I need to make some time to read more about these topics, and Paolo's blog is near the top of that reading list....

Six Degrees: Book Review


I recently finished reading Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age by Duncan Watts. While I was expecting to read a lot about social networking and the degrees of seperation in social society, I suprised to find so much science. Yes, I know: the subtitle should have given it away. But this is not a problem at all: the book is written very well, in such a way that anyone can understand and enjoy. In the fact, this convergence of science and sociolgy is makes makes this book truly interesting. The book discussed various types of networks, with results that are surprisingly similar. I recommend this book to anyone interested in social networking. The nineties were about the web network, and the decades that come will be about social networks that manifest them themselves on- and offline....

Blogging for a Job


I am developing a new site for a client: Job Search Blogs. The site offer free blogs to job seekers. Job seekers can use blogs to promote their skills and experiences to prospective employers. I think this has tremendous potential for improving the recruiting process. Let's face it: conventional resumes are dull and boring, and don't really say a lot about the candidate. Job Search Blogs have the potential to act an an extension of the resume, providing insight into the thinking and personality of the job seeker. A few months ago, when I pointed a friend at some of my blog sites, he replied 20 minutes later saying, "I've learned more about you in the past 20 minutes than I have since I met you". If blogs can this potential for revealing information about people who know each other, then this could be immensively helpful to an employer trying learn about a job candidate. I am interested to learn what others think about the concept. Any and all feedback is appreciated. Thanks in advance....

GMail as Foundation for Personal and Social Search


Google announced an upcoming free email service yesterday - as everyone knows, as "is it an April Fool's joke" debates raged all over the Internet. The implications of the new service could be wide-reaching. It goes well beyond a 1 GB mailbox. It's natural that this has become the focal point of conversation, in contrast to the meager 2 or 4 MB that you get with other free services. The business case, of course is Google AdWords, serving text ads targeted to the text of the email that you are reading. Once you start to look beyond those two aspects, however, it starts to become very interesting. One day, Google announced a personalized-search demo, and now email. Well, nothing is more personal than email (spam excluded). The problem with personalization system is that you have to fill out (sometimes huge) questionnaires about yourself, which few people want to do. The most successful systems, don't require this at all. Amazon is a great example. Based on the things you search for and the items you click on, Amazon starts to recommend this that you might like to to buy - heck, they even create a "Mark's Store" tab for me. Amazon builds a profile automically by tracking your actions on the system. Now imagine that a certain company knows what you are reading about (and writing) in emails. Further assume that the same company also knows the things that you are searching for, and maybe even the news that you are reading, the products that you are shopping for, and even where you are. A much broader and detailed profile could be created by compiling all this information. This could be used to serve extremely relevant, personalized search results (along with just as relevant advertising). Taking this one step further, we can remind ourselves that email is a form of communications. It is one medium that we use to interact with other members of our social networks. By keeping track of who we are communicating via email with, a company could build a graph or that person's social network. If the same company has detailed profiles of those people, then the potential is there to combine that data for refining search results and advertising. For example, if you email contacts think a particular search result is highly relevant, it may increase in the rankings when you search. Or if your friends or colleagues are clicking on particular advertisements, perhaps you would like to see those ads as well? While the potential is huge, it is also a little scary. When we thinking about the collection and processing of so much personal profile data, we usually think about government spy agencies, not your friendly neighborhood search engine. Like many things relating to the future of Google, privacy could become a serious concern or barrier going forward. Just when you thought the search engine wars couldn't get any more interesting......

Social Search: One Step Closer


Google is now one step closer to social search, with the introduction of a Google Labs demo for Google Personalized, a search service that considers your individual profile when ranking search results. This type of search was inevitable, and will go a long to improving the search results. The next step to take into account the searcher's profile in social networking context, considering not just my own profile, but also the profiles of those whom I interact with. Ideally, social search would also take into account a social voting or scoring system, in which the search results favored by my social network increase in relevance. The more that a search engine knows about you (including information about your social network), the better that search results can be tailored to you. But privacy issues abound - how information is too much for a company to ahve about you. There are already privacy concerns about Google and others. And we all know that Google is also an advertising company. The challenge will be to find a balance between improved search results and maintaining privacy of personal data. It will be interesting to see how this plays out....

Social Network Email Spam Filters


As email spam continues to grow, the use of "whitelisting" is a growing technique. The opposite of blacklisting, whitelisting entails the creation of a list of email addresses from which you are willing to accept email. Used by itself, this technique is extremely successful in preventing spam, but it has obvious problems: 1) You have to constantly update your whitelist, and 2) you can never receive email from people who don't know you (yet). There are a number of techniques to address the latter, which usually involve sending non-whitelisted senders to a web page for validation first, which is a real pain. Another approach is to expand the whitelist concept to include the whitelists of the people on your whitelist. In others words, allow email from friends-of-friends. And perhaps also from friends-of-friends-of-friends, depending on your personal preference. This technique relies on the trust inherent in social networks. As long a my contacts aren't friends with known spammers, it is probably safe to receive email from them also. The system could be made more complex by adding reputation or trust-scores into the mix, which would extropolate through each degree of your social network. Email messages could then be scored according to the social network path that connects you to the sender. This approach would enable you to receive all messages, but score each based on your connectivity to the sender. Messages from senders who are not connected to you (according to your preferences) would be scored low (or high, as the case may be) and perhaps auto-sorted into a lower priority folder. While this idea appeals to me, it seems there may be some major problems with it. First, the cumulative whitelist of my social network could be huge (millions of addresses) depending of the degrees of seperation chosen. I am not a computer scientist, but I wonder if this poses a processing problem. Also, this wouldn't work if the network data were openly and freely available. The spammer would just use the data to make sure they spoofed your best friends' email addresses every time (which would make their spam even more effective). So a system would be needed to ensure that the network information was not easily available - at least not on such a broad scale that spammers could use it to send mass mailings. In addition to these, I am sure there are other challenges. If they can be overcome, I think there is real potential in this approach as a way of filtering or scoring incoming email....

Smart Mobs: Book Review


I know that I may be late to the game on this one, but I recently finished reading Smart Mobs by Howard Rheingold. Prior to reading the book, I had been thinking a lot about the potential for peer-to-peer (P2P) social networks to become the successful model of the "online" social network. Reading the book helped solidify my thoughts in this area - and expanded the scope of my thinking to other related areas and possibilities. While there is currently a lot of talk about online web-based social networks, mobile-web-based social networks will soon become the major form of online social networks. Social networks will have both fixed and mobile interfaces, of course, and the mobile interface will become the primary one. As I have said before, mobile or fixed, for online social networks to be truly successful, they have to be open. That is, no service provider should define or limit the scope of my social network. As it has been for thousands of years, I will continue to define my social networks - people I am socially connected to should not be required to join one - or fifteen - "social networking services". There is a role for service providers to provide interfaces and services, but my relationships should be defined independently of the service provider....

Collaborative RSS Feed Categorization


As I posted on about Categorizing RSS Entries: Since this is the Semantic Social Network community, I think semantics is the answer to this one. :) The software should be smart enough to group author-designated categories according the meanings of the words or phrases used to describe them. I also like the way the social bookmarking tool enables user to specify their own tags, which others members of the (social) network can browse. Combine this with a semantics engine and an Amazon-style "the members of your FOAF network categorized this RSS feed as _________ and they also subscribed to _____________" and you have a fantasic collaborative social semantic categorization system (a CSSCS). ;)...

P2P Social Networking


As posted on Orkut: P2P typically means "individuals' personal computers", but it doesn't have to mean that. For example, blogs can be viewed as peer-to-peer, making connections directly between each other using Trackback or similar technologies. I can make a trackback connection to any blog that supports tracback - on any server - I'm not limited to a particular network of sites that it controlled by a single entity. I can also envision, using the personal computer P2P approach, a "friends caching for friends" scheme, in which willing members of your social network would "cache" your profile and other public (or semi-public) information. So if you go offline, your profile is still available. Finally, I think that mobile devices will become the dominant "peer nodes" in such a social network. The location-based possibilities are endless. And a mobile device is more likely to be "always on"....

Introducing MT Hacks


I have started a new web site, MT Hacks (, where I plan to post some of the Movable Type customizations that I have done. These will include templates, scripts, ideas, and plugins. Yesterday I posted my first MT plugin, MTDynamic. The plugin can be used to to render MT Blogs dynamically. By default, MT builds static pages - which is good for a lot of reasons. But there are cases where dynamic pages have benefits, and that's were MTDynamic comes in. The plugin enhances an "experimental" dynamic viewer that ships with Movable Type. More information can be found here. Other MT Hacks will be posted soon....

My Mars blog makes the NY Times


In my first mention in the printed press, the New York Times (very briefly) mentioned my Mars Rover Blog today. The article can be found here....

Google Social Networking: Orkut


Google has quitely launched a social networking service called Orkut. There is very little information on the site, and membership is by invitation only. Is this a stepping stone towards social search?...

Social Bookmarking


I recently discovered a site that offers a social bookmarking tool. enables to create bookmarks easily. After registering on the site, you use a simple bookmarklet to add sites to your list of bookmarks. But the site is much more than a bookmark list that you can access from any computer. The real genius of the site is the social aspects built in. After you add a bookmark, you may see something like "and 5 others" beside the new site. Click that link and you can see who and when other people bookmarked the same site. You can also click on their username to see what other sites they have been bookmarking - a great way to find people who share your interests (starting to sound like a social network, isn't it?). It can very be a very novel and cool way to browse the web - via other people's bookmarks. Another great aspect of the design enables you to add "tags" attached to each site that you bookmark. This is a simple space-separated list of words - whatever words you choose. Tags are essentially categories for the links. This is useful for two purposes. One is to categorize your own bookmarks the site lets you few lists of the sites by category. The other that the categories apply globally as well - so you can see the sites that others are bookmarking in the same categories as you - and others may discover your bookmarks while browsing the category lists. Bookmarks are also available via RSS and APIs, making the site even more useful. The idea of socially bookmarking, combined with the simple easy-to-use design of the site, is just brilliant. What a great idea....

P2P Reputation Systems


Can peer-to-peer (P2P) reputation systems work? Some of the successful and well known reputation systems on the web are controlled and managed by a central entity. An example that I have used in the past is the eBay feedback system. eBay enables buyers and sellers to rate other buyers and sellers, and presents that reputation information to everyone. Another example is the industry for digital certificates in which there are a few large, trusted "authorities" who vouch for the reputation of the certificate holder. In both of these examples, the reputation system is controlled by a large corporation - giving that company a lot of power, competitive leverage, etc. Since power in the hands of large corporation can easily corrupt, the idea of a peer-to-peer reputation system - one that is not controlled by a single entity - is very appealing to many (including myself). But can such a system work? And if so, how? First, I think we need to look at the main reasons why centralized reputation systems are successful. One of the most important reasons is trust. These systems work because people trust the reputation information presented by them. When look at the eBay reputation of someone, I have a high degree of confidence that the person's feedback score is accurate - I don't stop to wonder if that person has hacked the eBay system and changed the score. The eBay system works a s a reputation system because people trust eBay. But in a P2P approach, there is no large, recognizeable organization. Reputation information would be hosted in many different places, perhaps on the web sites or computers of individuals whom you do not know. So how do you know that you can trust these people? In order to trust them, you need to learn about their the problem becomes circular in nature. Can can we be confident that reputation information information in a P2P system is not forged or manipulated? One solution that comes to mind quiclky is that the reputation information could be stored in more than one place - in which case an anomoly could indicate attempts to forge data. But what happens when reputations legitmately change - the change must propagate to other nodes - how do you know that it is a real change and not a forged change? How can we trust reputation information in a peer to peer system? For the answer, I think we need to look at the most common reputation system of them all, one that has been around for thousands of years: word of mouth. For moment, let us forget about the web, TV, radio, newspapers - without these sources of information, how do we learn about the reputation of others? Personal interaction is the first way we can do this. If we buy products from a vendor at a (social) market, based on the quality of the products and the vendor's claims, we develop and opinion about the reputation of that person. Another...

Real social markets in Egypt


During my recent honeymoon in Egypt, I had the opportunity to experience some true social marketplaces. These were actual physical marketplaces, where everything is negoitable. While we spent most of the time in the more tourist-oriented sections of markets like the Khan El-Khalili in Cairo, the social aspect of these markets was very refreshing. Every purchase involved a discussion of quality and haggling over the price. The beauty of such social transactions is that the final price is set by both the buyer and the seller - everyone is happy. Even more so than this, the social aspects of the experience were fantastic (with the exception of some of the more aggressive vendors, that is). You could actually engage in conversations, not always about the product being sold. This social experience of commerce is virtually non-existant in North America, replaced by set prices and sales associates who know little about the products being sold. The web presents an opportunity to bring back the social marketplace - but this time on a global scale. Conversations and negoitations can place oceans apart. Friends can be made, and reputations can be built and ruined in the process. We can learn the experiences of other buyers of the same products and services and compare prices of international vendors easily. None of these things are easily achieved today. But as software, systems, and social networks mature, a social marketplace of global proportions is possible....