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Repackaging the Promise of the Social Semantic Web

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I recently read Robert Scoble’s blog post, Privacy Reboot Needed. He makes a compelling case for the possible benefits accrued to each Web citizen that volunteers to expose their entire activity stream–across their various social networks–for all to see.

However, there is one comment that Robert makes at the end of his piece that demonstrates that we in the Social Semantic Web space have a ways to go to get our message across. He states that:

If Facebook wants to be trusted it must make a privacy contract with its users that will have real consequences if Zuckerberg throws it under the bus. I don’t know what that looks like. This is why the alternatives to Facebook just don’t matter either. They all could break their privacy contract with us. Even Google or Microsoft could and we all know it. So, we’re just going to have to live in this new world where privacy is a myth.

As someone who is tapped into the pulse of the InterWebs, Scoble’s statement was somewhat of a shock. How can Robert Scoble not have heard about the promise of distributed social networks powered by the Semantic Web? How can he not understand some of the virtues of a fully-actualized Social Semantic Web?

What he states is true only for Facebook alternatives that offer more of the same—the closed data silos that remain under the control of an entity other than its users. What he fails to mention are those proposals that will put each user back in control of their own identity, privacy, and data. The only way that a privacy contract could be broken in that scenario is if a user breaks it with him or herself.

There are a number of us Semantic Web / Linked Data folks who are working on bringing this ideal to fruition. As an example of one such proposal, see my article, A Flock of Twitters: Decentralized Semantic Microblogging. Another recent proposal that has received significant attention is diaspora.

User-centric, distributed platforms like these will remove the issue of who owns our data and who decides its fate as it will be each individual who controls, who owns their data. These platforms will be the next evolution of the Web. As I conclude in my article, A Flock of Twitters:

It’s time to return to the original concept of the Web-based Internet—an interconnected, decentralized and distributed, open and independent cacophony of individuals who control their own Webspace, operate their own communication channel, and freely communicate with others without having to worry about a central point of failure…The only way [for that to happen] is by leveraging the power of the Semantic Web.

The promise of a fully-actualized Social Semantic Web is to firmly place the control of one’s identity and privacy back into the hands of the Web’s citizens. If our work in making that dream come to reality is going to succeed, we must better craft our message, we must better communicate the virtues of a user-centric, user-controlled Social Semantic Web.

Related Articles

The Semantics of the Semantic Web: Don’t Confuse the Concept with the Movement
Thinking Outside the Privacy Box
Regaining Control of Privacy and Identity: It’s up to Each Individual
Privacy in the Facebook Era
Flocking To the Stream

Article Comments

  1. American Yak says:

    Nice. I pasted this over here: http://buddypress.org/community/groups/miscellaneous/forum/topic/diaspora-what-do-you-think/

    I do think the inertia behind both BuddyPress and Diaspora ($165,275 as of this writing!) brings to light just how much some people will work/pay for privacy.

    I also think there are a lot of tech-geeks (not mentioning names) who want distributed social networking, but are now doing it through large enterprises that are, essentially, silos trying to unsilo themselves. Working backwards can sometimes be so much harder than working forwards.

    Diaspora definitely set me thinking about how to do it right. I think they may be on to something.

  2. @johndeo says:

    Jeff,

    Do you know if diaspora will have any semantic aspects to it? Is it incorporating aspects of SMOB?

    Thanks.

    • Jeff Sayre says:

      John –

      I’ve contacted the Diaspora guys twice, trying to engaging them in a dialogue regarding the desirability of semantifying their platform. I sent them links to my A Flock of Twitters article, to SMOB, and to various Semantic Web resources like the W3C pages on WebID. They have not responded.

      That is not too surprising as they are obviously quite busy. However, based on their few blog posts about the initial platform, it appears that they do not (yet?) grok the concept and beneficial power of the Web of Data. It is too bad as with the attention they’ve received (both financial and promotional), Diaspora really could have been a big, positive leap forward in distributed Social Web platforms.

      Perhaps they will add a semantic layer in future versions. Until then, I am working on other options.

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