Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Facebook and six degrees of separation

Facebook seems like a rich and obvious testbed for the six-degrees theory. And lo and behold, someone developed a facebook application to determine degrees of separation among facebook users -- see the wikipedia entry for more; and I have added a widget to this page.

I am fascinated right now (for how long who knows) by facebook. Mainly because all of a sudden, various social networks that I have been part of in my peripatetic life are present, and in the present. It's like time has been flattened, rendered 2-d and it's all now. It's as if the various boxes that I have kept different networks of friends in, mainly sorted by time (and where I lived), which also maps to some extent to varied interests, have all been up-ended and they are all flowing together. It also makes for a kind of Wonderful Life moment, because there are a lot of relationships there, with most of the bridges intact or only slightly charred.

Facebook also makes the theory much more, well, present and experienced -- like the difference between seeing a picture of the Golden Gate bridge and seeing the bridge itself. I can feel the various overlapping networks.

I have just installed the facebook Six Degrees app, and I need to play around with it.

Of course, the criticisms of the six-degrees theory (see previous posts) all hold -- in this case, the universe of facebook users is a pretty strong filter. The network of social networks definitely reflects the class and power and other social structures of humanity -- but doesn't that make the theory that much more interesting? Where do social networks jump the class line or the color line or the national line? And those borders are not so hard and fast as before, and weakening all the time as new communication tools (and transportation, although that's old news now?) erode the walls. How the barriers, especially the color and national one, are becoming more and more permeable ("Yes we can!") would be an interesting phenom to map. So not just six-degrees now, but how the degrees are changing over time. The wikipedia entry says that maximum degree of separation is 12 (the average is just under six) -- presumably that maximum will decline over time as the facebook universe expands (or the world gets smaller and flatter as new communication technologies and labor migration and mobility spread).


Monday, April 06, 2009

A test

More on my social networking adventure -- I am trying to figure out some general rules for having my entries on this blog show up on my facebook page. The problem is that (a) the feedback loop is fairly long (how often the facebook apps sweep the RSS feed) and (b) not too well documented and (c) I am not being very scientific about my independent variables and controls -- I get too impatient.


New models

Two articles in yesterday's New York Times highlight some of the changes in the structure of the economy that the evolving Internet makes possible.

One article describes the challenge of online apps (in this case, Zoho) to mega-desktop suites like Microsoft Office. Now apps like Zoho's Writer (which I haven't used) and Google Docs (which I used quite a bit, especially the spreadsheet) are good enough to pose a real alternative to desktop bloats like Word. I remember, maybe 15 years ago, the discussion between centralized apps vs distributed apps (i.e. desktop apps). At the time, Bill Gates defended desktop apps in almost libertarian language -- you controlled your app on your own machine.

Today, I suppose the question of control is still real, and one of the real criticisms of online apps revolves around trust and risk -- can you trust Google, or AdventNet (the makers and hosters of Zoho)? What is they start charging? (Possible?) Are they better about backups etc.? (Probably) What about snoops, government or otherwise? (Who knows?) Could they block access to my documents in the event of some dispute? (Maybe? There's probably something in the terms of agreement I clicked through). All valid questions. The question of trust is a big one, across the Internet (and the economy, and life, too).

What's different in the debate now, I think, is the element of mobility and multiple devices. For example, I have a computer at home, one at work, and a handheld, as well as a couple of other systems I sometimes use, running four different OSs. Having access (not just to read but to manipulate too) to any of my documents from any device is a big deal. And so the convenience factor of the online services starts to outweigh the perceived advantages of desktop apps. (Zoho provides an offline option which could overcome of the desktop advantages.)

I think I am digressing -- the point is that the speed of connections, the ubiquity of connections, the variety of devices, mobility all are shifting the center of gravity back to centralized (who remembers timesharing and terminals?), but this time highly connected systems, upsetting old models. Well nothing new, people have been talking about this for fifteen years and more. But maybe now it is really tipping.

The other article commented on the "iPhone gold rush." Some independent developers are doing quite well writing apps for the iPhone, and selling them through Apple's "app store" for prices starting at 99 cents and going up from there (there are also many free apps too, and many of them quite good, which is a whole other thing, that gift economy thing). With some 30 million iPhones and iPod Touchs out there, and the barrier to entry very low, it is a relatively easy business to get into. For $100 you can sign up with Apple's iPhone development program, you write your app, submit it to Apple, they list it on their app store, and return 70% of sales to you ("Just get yourself an electric guitar and learn how to play"). There is some other network phenomenon at play. Make the cost of attaching to the network low enough, and the cost of communicating with other nodes cheap enough, and interesting things will start to happen. Of course Apple does quite well in the process. It's main role is creating the sandbox for all of the developers to play in, and throwing more sand in the box -- the iPhone OS 3.0 will have a number of new features, including new money-making opportunities for developers in the form of subscription services and in-app upgrades and purchases. See the video of the developer announcement event for more.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Managing my social network tools

I suppose I am late to the game, but I have just recently been exploring some of the Web 2.0 social network tools -- RSS and Google Reader, some of the blogger widgets (mostly playing around with them on my worklife blog, Diigo, Twitter (I'm @jiidavis1), and even facebook. And I have an iPhone now, which adds a whole other dimension to the social networking challenge. The challenge I have been wrestling with is how to make it all work together -- after they are all on the same network. But they do need to be taught (? or rather instructed?) to work together. And there is a definite flow to information I pump into my little menagerie of Web 2.0 social networking machine. The ideal is that I write something once, or identify a link, or upload a picture, and it flows from there to the various fronts of my web presence or groups or communities or whatever.

My blogs are one of the headwaters, and twitterfeed is supposed to send those updates out to my Twitter (still not sure what the point of Twitters is). My worklife facebook is supposed to pick up my worklife blog updates; and my personal facebook is supposed to pick updates on this blog. My additions to Diigo should show up on my blogs (depending on how I tagged new links), and I can have Diigo send the links to Twitter also. Google Reader should be picking up Twitter, as well as the blog posts, but I can't tell yet if the Twitter RSS is working. My Picassa updates are supposed to show up on the work blog and work facebook. What a contraption.

I imagine this (or did someone imagine this for me, and I am recollecting it?) as accoutrements, constructing a shell or maybe armor or maybe a sensor array of my self. Marshall McLuhan -- technologies are extensions of our bodies...