Group Context Social Networking – Connections of People

The truth splits my skull like an ancient Japanese Koan overloads logical thought – a DoS attack on the mind, designed specifically to engage, overwhelm and suppress the natural mental processes. It feels at once like the freedom of flight while chewing on a gobstopper made of white hot lead of infinite mass. The irony of my compass analogy in my recent post about Web 2.0 hit me, when I realised that I had overlooked the single most important element of this medium – PEOPLE. That the main purpose the Internet serves is connections. Not just the literal connections of one machine to another, but the connections of one PERSON to another.

Not all Connections Area Created Equal

Whilst speaking with a dear friend of mine from California, we came to a stunning realisation of a NEW technology that might be used on the Web. You see, the problem with social networking is – at the moment – it is essentially mindless. Someone is tagged as your friend, they get to read EVERYTHING you post and share. But the reality of our human connections is they all have a different scope, purpose and meaning. A boyfriend and girlfriend relationship is quite different from a prime minister and political party relationship, which is again quite different from the relationship of a mother and child. There will be similar elements and characteristics some share, but each will be unique in one way or another. As people, we are members of lots of groups – some overlap in our lives, others may be a little more exclusive.

Targeting Appropriate Information to Appropriate People

My new idea (dubbed ‘group context social networking’ for now) is about carefully context-targeted information – Sharing appropriate information with appropriate groups on the Internet. There may be personal facts you only share with your close friends that you would not share at work, equally there may be things you discuss at work that you would never talk about at home. I put it to the reader that it is simply not enough anymore to simply share all information equally and globally on the Internet, as not all connections that supply this information are equal. In fact – I would go as far as to say that all of MySpace and Facebooks problems have arisen from the way that everything is shared globally.

Imagine being able to set viewing permissions on a particular sentence, or paragraph of your text on the Web in the same way you might alter the texts’ colour or style. Imagine being able to hide and show particular sections to particular groups, so that the message available will be very slightly tailored for each type of audience you have, depending on what type of relationship you have with the reader.

How Would This Be Achieved Practically?

My concept involves assigning your friends to particular groups which reflect what type of friend they are – and therefore what type of bond you enjoy. The author would write the complete document (including all the gory details), then use a markup syntax as tags within the text which indicate which groups can view particular sections. When the document is requested, the server will need to do a little post-processing to remove any sections not suitable to the current viewer, before sending the document.

Suggested Syntax, How it Might Be Achieved in the Document

After some thought, (and to avoid tripping over any of the existing post-processor syntax such as <% and <? ) I thought it might be good to use : <@groupname: TEXT@> as the delimiters. You could specify multiple groups by using : <@homefriends|workfriends: HELLO@>, making the parsing of groups quite easy using the following rules:

  • For all the document, find the strings that occur within the limiting <@ and @> tags
  • For all the strings found in step one, we know that left of : we have group names, right of : we have the text.
  • For all group names, find the string up to the first occurrence of the | delimiter (if | is not found, then this is the last group mentioned)
  • Else get the group name left of | and pass the remaining string back to step 3
  • Consider the following rules I have set in my account:

friends are my closest friends
acquaintances are people I know, but not well. Possibly old friends from school who have looked me up, or people I have just met on the NET

Now, consider the following text passage:

This weekend I enjoyed a few drinks <@friends|acquaintances:with a couple of friends@><@friends:Bob and Joe@><@friends|acquaintances:who’s company I enjoy enormously@>.

A close friend (in my friends) group would see:

This weekend I enjoyed a few drinks with a couple of friends Bob and Joe who’s company I enjoy enormously.

But someone who is not a member of ‘friends‘ (but is a member of ‘acquaintances‘) would see:

This weekend I enjoyed a few drinks with a couple of friends who’s company I enjoy enormously.

Someone who is just a member of the public might see:

This weekend I enjoyed a few drinks.

This is a fairly simplified example, but now imagine having a group for every circle of friends you associate with – being able to tailor the document using sections like this.

This idea will solve many of the ills that social networking has caused in reality – and controversey that many employers, individuals and the law has had to deal with as a result. In theory, following these standards a person could develop a series of libraries in PHP or ASP (or a similar server-side scripting language) that could provide this functionality to be imported into existing content management systems and social networking sites.

I guess I share this idea, because I realise I will not have time to work on this in the immediate future, but hopefully this will be an interesting thought for some.