Now blogging at diego's weblog. See you over there!

social software: representing relationships

[Followups to this post here and here]

In all the recent talk about social software (particularly a lot of discussion generated by the release of Orkut, see Ross' Why Orkut doesn't work, Wired's Social nets not making friends, Cory's Toward a non-evil social networking service, Anne's Social Beasts, Zephoria's Venting about Orkut (many good follow-up links at the end of her post as well), David on the identity ownership issues that arise), one of the oft-mentioned points is that these tools force people to define relationships in binary fashion ("Is X your friend? Yes or no.") or along limited one-dimensional axes. Also, a lot of the talk has been attacked as mere bashing of beta services by the "digerati" (particularly in what relates to Orkut), and while there is definitely be an element of hype-sickness that contributes to it (felt more by those who see new things every day), I also think that some of these concerns are valid and part of the process of figuring out how to build better software in this space.

Don had an interesting post on Sunday on which he discusses his idea of "Friendship circles" to define relationships. I think this is most definitely an improvement over current binary or one-dimensional approaches (and I think it's quite intuitive too). I do think though that relationships maps like these are often multi-dimensional. While Don's approach covers, I'd say, 80-90% of the cases, there will be overlaps where someone might belong to two or three categories, which makes it harder to place someone in a certain section of the circle (with two categories though you could place someone on the edge where they connect though). I see a chooser of this sort as something more along the lines of a Venn diagram, as follows:

However, Don's diagram has one big, big advantage, which is that it visually relates people to you rather than placing them in categories. That is, with his diagram you can visually define/see the "distance" between a given person and yourself, or in other words, how "close" they are to you, while the approach I'm describing requires that you define in abstracto how you view these people, but not in relation to you.

What I'm describing is thus probably more accurate for some uses (and scalable to self-defined categories, rather than predetermined ones, which would show up as additional circles) but also has more cognitive overload.

This point of "scalability" however is important I think, because it addresses the issue of fixed representation more directly. How so? Well, current "social networking" tools basically force every person in the network to adapt to whatever categories are generally common. Furthermore, they force the parties in a relationship (implicitly) to agree on what their relationship is. I think it's not uncommon that you'd see a person as being, say, an acquaintance, and that person to view you as a friend (if not a close one). People don't always agree on what the relationship means to each other. This to me points to the need to let each person define their own relationship/trust structures and then let the software mesh them seamlessly if possible.

In the end I think that a more accurate representation would be three-dimensional (okay, maybe the most accurate would be n-dimensional, but we can't draw that very well, can we? We always need transformation to 2D planes, at least until 3D displays come along :)). Something that mixes Venn diagrams with trust circles like Don describes.

Needless to say, this is but a tiny clue of a small piece of the puzzle. Whatever solutions we come up with now will be incomplete and just marginally useful, as all our theories (and consequently what we can build with them, such as software) are but a faint, innapropriate (read: linear) reflection of the complexity (read: nonlinearity) that exists in the world.

Another thing that I find interesting of the discussion is that there seems to be an implicit assumption of whether you'd want to expose all of this information to other people. But that's how current tools generally work, it doesn't mean that you can't selectively expose elements of your relationships/trust circles to certain people and not others (and keep some entirely private). Problem is that this usually requires complex management, and a web interface is not well adjusted to that. You need rich (read: client-side) UIs, IMO (but that's just me). Client-side software also helps with privacy issues.

We have lots to figure out in this area yet, but we're getting there, inch-by-inch Or should it be byte-by-byte? :)).

Posted by diego on February 3, 2004 at 2:30 PM

web application stress testing

Was thinking about this topic today, and I remembered a few years back I used Microsoft's Web Application Stress Tool. It did the job (simple stuff, nothing terribly complicated), and it was free, if sometimes a little difficult to use properly. Apparently it's not maintained anymore, since the listed version is still compatible only with W2K.

Now, I was any apps out there that people really like for this job, on any platform? What do you use/recommend for web apps stress testing?

Posted by diego on February 3, 2004 at 1:16 AM

Just found, home to Free as in Freedom: Richard Stallman's Crusade for Free Software, a biography of sorts of Richard Stallman. Read bits and pieces of it, very, very interesting. And: an essay on the online book by Eric Raymond (linked from the main site).

The pluses of random web navigation... :)

Categories: technology
Posted by diego on February 3, 2004 at 1:12 AM

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