Mapping Week 1: Reading, links, responses
The introduction to Else/Where is more or less a set of entry points, so I'm going to use it as an entry point into something I've been thinking about recently. Specifically, this article: Thoughts on the Social Graph by Brad Fitz (best known as the guy who created LiveJournal). The social graph, according to Fitz, is "the global mapping of everybody and how they're related," particularly in reference to social software. He goes on:
Unfortunately, there doesn't exist a single social graph (or even multiple which interoperate) that's comprehensive and decentralized. Rather, there exists hundreds of disperse social graphs, most of dubious quality and many of them walled gardens.
Fitz uses this article to present a project whose goal is to "make the social graph a community asset." In other words, if you're friends on LiveJournal, you should be friends on Facebook, and vice versa; it should, moreover, be trivial for emerging social networking sites to get their hands on this data. The idea is this: we're talking about a number of relationships that are entirely analogous here. If we could all just pull together and cooperate, we wouldn't have to rebuild our social networks on every site we join.
The problem is that these relationships aren't entirely analogous or, at least, there's room for questioning the analogy. Is being friends on Facebook really the same thing as being friends on LiveJournal? Are LiveJournal friends exactly like MySpace friends? Flickr contacts? Last.fm "neighbors"? It strikes me that the functionality and semantics of the "friend" relationship on each of these sites is very different. The software uses the relationship for different functions (hiding information, revealing information, making recommendations, etc.); different criteria must be met in order for someone to be counted as a "friend" (or "neighbor" or "contact" or whatever).
The belief that these relationships are somehow, deep down, essentially the same is, in my opinion, a mistake. It's a problem of mapping: a classic confusion of the map and the territory. The formalization of the system (the map) only accounts for only a subset (maybe even an imaginary subset) of "friend" relationship in practice (the territory).
It occurs to me that these subtle differences in the way relationships are created, maintained, and abandoned, and what the relationship means in terms of the way the software works, are all factors in what makes a particular social site unique. (E.g., Being able to easily find and grant privileges to schoolmates on Facebook is essentially what made Facebook popular.) Moreover, the fact that these social software sites exist in separate social "enclaves" may actually be a feature - it functions as a way of partitioning different social groups and different ways of socializing.
(More about this week's reading after the cut.)
Works (and other things) of interest referenced in this week's reading:
Multinational Organigrams from Bureau d'Études
Horn's paper on Social Messes (memorable quote: "Problems have solutions. Messes do not have straightforward solutions.")
I didn't know what "Taylorism" meant.
Antenna Design's Civic Exchange Project is buried somewhere in here.
Everything2 on Ducks vs. Decorated Sheds (though I'm still not clear on how "recording ... environments in 3D in unprecedented detail" will "shatter" this dichotomy ...?)
Amsterdam RealTime, which is interesting to compare to the chapter on urban planning/mapping in The Practice of Everyday Life by de Certeau - this project traces the path of the walker, and turns it right back into the privileged birds-eye view!
Laura Kurgan's Monochrome Landscapes, which to me look like scrolling backgrounds from shmup video games (viz. 1942 and Xevious).
Jeremy Wood's GPS drawing - so much awesome stuff on this site.
Ben Fry's Genomic Cartography site. I find that the exaggerated scale of these pieces has a perverse minimizing effect: as if to emphasize that there's a lot there, but it's finite - it's just a string of symbols.