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Eran's blog

Social Networks for Social Search

There are 3 main reasons to add someone as a contact on flickr:

  1. They just added you and you feel obliged to reciprocate.
  2. They’re actually someone you know and you want to keep up with them and/or see photos from shared events.
  3. You like their photos.

Discounting #1 as an illness that plagues all YASNs, #2 and 3 are all about finding photos that are relevant to you. It’s not quite search yet because flickr doesn’t let you search in your social network but it’s close.

Other YASNs are like that as well. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that social networks are about 2 things: hooking up and social search. By hooking up I mean pure social connection, not necessarily of the sexual kind and by social search I mean using your social network to find/discover information that is relevant to you. Sadly, most of them are lacking in tools to do that effectively but we’ll get there some day. I hope.

Why am I writing this? Well, I’ve been thinking of social search on and off for the last year or two. The model I’ve come up with can be best described as multi-layered social search. Different layers of your social network (layers that may be completely orthogonal to one another) are used as filters for different topics. You can have your music friends, your Java architects, your gaming geeks… each group would be used to filter different sources of information. Get news about music and live shows from people whose music taste you appreciate. Get recommendations about new games from Tycho and Gabe and so on.

Most social networks won’t let you do that yet. Yahoo’s My Web 2.0 is making a good start with their labels and I’d like to see more of that. Del.icio.us let’s you find supposed experts on certain topics with their ‘active users.’ A combination of both features would be useful. A place where I can bookmark, discuss, discover and connect with like-minded people would be another welcome addition once we’ve combined the above two features (segmentation and expert discovery).

But for now, we have a different solution. This solution (partial and lacking in many ways) comes in the form of niche YASNs that keep showing up. Use flickr to find photos, upcoming for events, boompa for car information, tribe for like-minded people, last.fm for music, netflix for movies and so on and so forth. We don’t have the Grand Unified Social Network yet but we can pretend we do by using 20 different YASNs. If we’re lucky, at least some of those will be open (as in open standards and APIs) for integration in the future.

By the way, this idea integrates quite seamlessly with the theory of Object Mediated Social Networks which I’ve talked about before. When people connect (discuss, analyze, link, etc.) over objects (movies, bands, jobs) they create filters. Those filters can then be used for search. Social search.

Filed under: Search, Tagging, The Net

i-Tags

i-Tag is a new standard proposal by Mary Hodder, Kaliya Hamlin, and Drummond Reed.

The basic idea of an i-tag (identity tag, independent tag, intelligent tag – take your pick) is that a user could tag an object on their own site (photo, video, sound file, text or an entire blog post), where the tag, and the object, would then go out through the RSS feed or be spidered, with some additional information that doesn’t now exist in tags.

Here is a sample i-Tag

<a href="http://example.com/tags/dog" rel="tag" class="http://example.com/blog/post/54">dog</a>

This is an interesting idea but we already have xFolk that solves this problem pretty well, in my opinion. xFolk is a format for publishing collections of bookmarks, it allows users to apply rel-tag to any object identified by a URL. xFolk can be embedded in XHTML, Atom, etc. so it can be easily aggregated by any interested party. Here’s the same entry in xFolk:

<span class=”xfolkentry”>
<a class=”taggedlink” href=”http://example.com/blog/post/54″>my blog post</a>
<a rel=”tag” href=”http://example.com/tags/dog”>dog</a&gt;
</span>

The other option for i-Tag is tagging objects with a license. I fail to see a general use case for this that would not be covered by rel-license. A sample license i-Tag:

<a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/publicdomain/" rel="license" class="http://example.com/blog/post/54">dog</a>

It might be useful to indicate the license of an image or a video clip in some cases but in those same cases one could use xFolk and rel-license to achieve the same:

<span class="xfolkentry">
<a class="taggedlink" href="http://example.com/blog/post/54">my blog post</a>
<a rel="license" href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/publicdomain/">Public Domain</a>
</span>

Besides replicating existing work, there’s a couple of other problems with i-Tags. Embedding a URL (or XRI or what-have-you) in the class attribute strikes me as a generally bad idea.

  1. From a semantic standpoint, this is completely meaningless.
  2. From a design standpoint, you cannot use that class value as part of a CSS selector – it just doesn’t work. And am I allowed to add more values to the class attribute to fix that? The spec is unclear on this.
  3. Last but not least, this piece of data is completely hidden from whoever is viewing the page. How are my readers supposed to know what I’m tagging if they can’t see the subject URL?

As for the whole community dictionary thing (and whatever other information might be hidden inside those XRI), I’m not sure I quite follow but it seems like it would be just as useful inside xFolk and rel-license if one were inclined to use XRI. Alternatively, we do have wikipedia.

via: You’re It

Filed under: MicroFormats, Tagging, The Net

Distributed Social Anything

Following are generally unstructured thoughts and plans for a possible project. I’ve been thinking about something in this vain for a while but have never put those thoughts into a more permanent form so here goes. This post serves mostly as scratch paper for my ideas so feel free to skip it if you don’t like long, raw, technical posts.

For lack of a better name, I’m calling this Distributed Social Anything. The most concise description I can come up with is distributed Tribe.net. Completely distributed (and then aggregated for convenience :).

  • All content published and owned by the users.
  • All content is accessible by any would be aggregator and formatted according to open standards (mostly microformats).
  • Based on existing tools and technologies. The main publishing tool is a blog.
  • Compatible with current tools. The requirements to participate are few, users of most blog hosting services should be able to participate.

Features and concepts:

  • Identity is defined by a URL. Currently the entities in the system are users and groups, both will have a canonical URL that contains at least XFN data. This XFN data (slightly expanded) defines the standard social network for users but also group membership.
  • Reciprocal XFN links might be required for some of the relations defined later. This is optional and left to aggregators to decide.
  • Group membership is published in XFN. This might require reciprocal links between users and group.
  • Users can publish information about themselves using XFN and hCard. User rel=”me” to link to additional shards of identity.
  • Users publish content on their blog. This content is later aggregated by groups to create a coherent group view .
  • Channels are feeds of blog posts that belong to a specific set. Channels are defined by tags or categories. Each group has at least one channel. Posts marked with that channel’s ID will be part of that group’s discussions.
  • Discussion are annotated using citeRel. Group aggregators might display those in a threaded format
  • Displaying previous versions of posts (in case of editing) with a diff view would be nice
  • XFN links should be aggregated and searchable (similar to rubhub.com). A service that offers search in the XFN space would be very nice
  • Group aggregators should also be aware of rich data (events, listings, etc.)
  • The group site might be able to highlite specific type of rich data (images, bookmarks, etc.) and/or offer access to it using feeds/API
  • We need administrative control of the group – membership, post moderation, rules, access-control, etc.
  • API for the group aggregator
  • Note: group aggregators can collect content from many sources, not just blogs (e.g. flickr, delicious)

Existing support:

  • WordPress supports feeds for categories. Also posts can belong to more than one category. Free channels!
  • RubHub does some XFN search but does not seem to be open source 😦

To do:

  • Express group membership using XFN (rel=”memberof” ?)
  • Finalize citeRel.
  • Expand and improve on structured blogging.
  • A format for publishing group information.
  • Possibly replicate and improve on RubHub.
  • The group aggregator service.

Filed under: Aggregation, MicroFormats, Projects, Tagging

Tag Tuesday, Again!

I think it’s the fourth one…

Tag Tuesday is coming to Mountain View! After three meetings in San Francisco we have decided to give Silicon Valley a try to extend our reach. Our next meeting will take place next Tuesday, November 29, from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at AOL’s campus in Mountain View.

Speakers will be Edwin Aoki of AOL and Kevin Burton of TailRank. Seems like this one might be worth the drive…

More details at the Tag Tuesday blog.

Filed under: Events, Tagging

Adventures at Tag Camp

It’s been a fun evening at tag camp. Finally got to see the Riya demo, pretty cool stuff. Got to talk to the cocoalicious guys, they’ve got a nice interface coming out for accessing your del.icio.us bookmarks. Sadly, it’s mac only. I managed to capture an instance of tag spam, that was very exciting as you can see in this photo from Laughing Squid. And of course, I met a bunch of cool people, among them Stowe Boyd of Corante and Barb Dybwad from the Weblogs Inc’s Social Software Weblog. Time to update those XFN links…

More pics of the event on flickr.

Filed under: Events, Tagging

wink

Wink is a social search site that’s got an interesting take on search. You could say it’s a mash-up of a search-engine, a bookmark tagging service and a wiki.

The search page is divided into 3 areas. At first you’ll probably notice the “favorite resultsâ€? area. These results were recommended (i.e. tagged and rated) by wink users. Eventually this would become one of Wink’s strongest features. Currently, it just lacking in content.

Following the favorites are Google’s search results. You’re given the option to tag and/or rate links in both result sets. Tag a link and it’s saved as a tagged bookmark, accessible through your personal page. It would have been nice to use other search engines here but, frankly, who uses anything but Google anyway?

You’ll also notice the concept box, immediately under the search bar. This is an attempt at disambiguating search terms by providing the user with a list of articles from Wikipedia. It’s a pretty interesting idea as these concepts can be edited by wink users in the familiar WikiMedia interface, helping Wink keep up with the times and helping users narrow down their search even in areas they’re not deeply knowledgeable. The concepts also come with a related links (also wiki-fied) letting you surf through similar or connected concepts.

Occasionally, you’ll see a list of users show up between search results. These are users who created search sets that matched your search, more on search sets later. If you click on any of the user names here, you’ll get to their search page where you can see their favorite links, sets, etc.

Does that sound like a busy page? We’re barely even scratching the surface.

So you’ve tagged a few links, rated others, now what? Click on “My Pageâ€?and check your main Wink page where you can organize tags and manage your search sets. This page tries to cram as much information as possible into limited space while maintaining an “airyâ€? design. The result is that you only get to see about 3 of your links/sets at a time and you must page through your tags with about 20 tags per page. Navigating through your tags is made easier by dynamically filtering tags as you type.

This page also lets you see related users, similarly to the search results and search sets created by other users which you added to your list of favorites. Sometime in the future, you’ll also see your search history at the bottom of the page. Adding sets (or tags) from other users is a good way to stalk^H^H^H^H^H keep up with someone whom you consider a good source on that topic.

Clicking on a tag pulls up related links and search sets both from your collection and from Wink’s favorite links. As usual, you can tag just about anything in view, even tags. Clicking the edit button brings up the Search Set editor, here you can create (or edit) your search set. There is a strange duality, on Wink, between tags and sets, they appear to be two sides of the same coin. For now I’ll just treat tags as sets meaning you can add a link to a tag or you can tag a link with a set, achieving pretty much identical results. Confusing? There’s more! You can add sets to other sets. This means you can (relatively) easily organize your links in a hierarchy but still access them through tags. That’s kinda neat.

All in all, Wink has some interesting ideas but most are hidden behind a limited UI and unclear concepts. I don’t see any way to export my content from wink but they do make it very easy to import data from del.icio.us. Yeah, I know, they’re in beta… 🙂

Filed under: Search, Tagging, The Net

Tag Spam

One of the biggest disadvantages of using tags in your application is how easy it is to create spam tags. Since the Web became of commercial interest we’ve seen spam invade just about every space and technology, there is no reason to assume that tag-space is not next in line to suffer from an epidemic of spam.

There is definitely evidence of tag-spam, you can see it on ice-rocket, for exmaple (just search for tag:mesothelioma). Luckily, tag-spam is not nearly as wide-spread as search-engine spam in the dark ages of the Web or Email spam. Spamming tags, as a practice, has probably not yet reached main-stream spammers but that’s not the only parameter at work here. Most online tools today are aware of the spam problem and are taking steps to fight it and those that do, are doing pretty well.

Fortunately for the forces of Good, spamming is a numbers game (even more so with sites that sort information by date instead of relevancy). For spammers to successfully attract traffic to a site they must get high placement in the search results, the easiest way to get this done is by creating spam in large numbers. This type of behavior leads to patterns, patterns can be learned and employed by filters to detect spam or spam-suspect data. If businesses share this information in an open way, the effectiveness of those tools increases exponentially.

Another tool, which is just as strong and must be present in any decent tagging application, is the community. Without a community there is no data, with a community there’s not only data but also people who care about it and will perform some gardening on it. No need for any one user to cover your entire database but if you give your users tools and enough of them care about their own little niches, spam will disappear. We’ve seen this in Craig’s List and in Wikipedia, the community takes care of it’s own.

There will always be some part of the database that does not get properly gardening from the community; you can only expect so much from users volunteering their time. If this part is still important, you can hire people to tend to it but I have to ask, if your community doesn’t care about that data, do you?

As with every other form of spam, this is, and always will be, an arms race. As programmers find new way to detect spam and to empower the community to help, spammers find new ways to get around those tools. We need to decide, are tags worth fighting for? I think they are.

Filed under: Tagging

Tag Camp

Signed-up for Tag-Camp last nite. I don’t know if I’m gonna be there for the whole duration, I’ll probably just make it for the first night maybe even start some discussion about tag spam. I’ve been meaning to write about that for a while, ever since I came up against some tag-spam related FUD in a discussion a couple weeks ago. I feel that this is an important issue that is not getting nearly enough attention. We need to show that, one, this is not nearly as big a problem as some people seem to think and, two, it’s a problem that can be solved by leveraging existing tools and the community that is an integral part of any tag-based tool.

Filed under: Events, Tagging

Tag-*

Coming up tomorrow, Tag Tuesday #3:

And next month, building on the success of Bar Camp, it’s Tag Camp! Tag Camp promises to be (and I quote) [a] welcoming event for geeks to camp out for a couple days, get wired on Halloween candy and think really fast. It’s like Tag Tuesday only on a weekend, with sleeping bags and luxurious showers. Yes, that’s right showers with little fishies on the shower curtain too!

Filed under: Tagging

JetEye Launched!

I’ve been working with this small start-up in downtown SF for the last month or so and we’ve just launched our beta. The site is called JetEye and what it offers is a new way to search, collect and share digital information. Using packages (called JetPaks) you can collect links, images, notes and other JetPaks, add tags and share information with the rest of the world.

JetPaks are collections of resources that offer more flexibility than a single bookmark but are more structured than a Web page. A JetPak can contain many related resources of different types, expanding the bookmark concept, but can still be quickly scanned and digested unlike a blog post or a Web page. As information stores, JetPaks contains just the right amount of data to be useful without becoming cluttered and unwieldy.

Vannevar Bush talked about sharing associative trails of information; JetPaks allow you to do just that – as you search, collect the links in a JetPak, annotate them or add select quotes and images. Attach this JetPak to your research notes when you’re done so that, sometime in the future, you or anyone else can recreate the trail of thought you followed on the way to a your final conclusion.

JetPaks allow us to re-index the web. By collecting related resources into coherent packages we’re creating a new type of folksonomy, one that can better capture our own associations. Delicious and flickr let you browse the associative space of related tags, bookmarks and images as defined by whatever algorithms they designed. By allowing you to create packages of information, JetEye lets you create your own associative space based on your own connections. Every JetPak is a statement by a person, saying these items are all related to each other, they are interesting and they are even more interesting when viewed together in a single context.

You can use JetPaks to track distributed conversations, publish research notes, share specific information on any topic or even as a presentation aid. Taken as a whole JetPaks create a fascinating view of the web, re-indexed, re-contextualized and re-mixed by users. I can’t wait to see what people make of this.

Filed under: Search, Tagging, The Net