The Giant Global Graph

I posted this article at designed.nu, a weblog is about design. Design commentary usually focuses on the aesthetical and artistical side of what is considered design. But this particular post is about the original design of the internet, the world wide web and the giant global graph. -Huh? The what? Exactly.

Let me explain. When just about any blogger comments on the development of the internet and the world wide web, long discussions about web 2.0, web 3.0 and all kinds of concepts usually follow. And when that blogger considers to rename the world wide web into something as obscure as the Giant Global Graph, this normally is greeted with laughter at that person’s expense. Enter the latest weblog post of Sir Tim Berners-Lee. -Huh? Who? Exactly.

When the ‘inventor’ of modern day’s most succesful technology writes a post about the next step of the web -following its original design, but fuelled by the evolution that it has made over the past few years (the www is only 18 years old!), we’d better start paying attention. All this Web twopointsomething crap aside, he explains how he sees the evolution of the internet, the world wide web, and the next layer: the giant global graph.

Basically, the first abstraction layer is what is referred to as the Net. The major benefit of the Net is that it doesn’t matter how your computer is connected and how the cables go from one ‘puter to the other. The Net was/is designed to connect you to any other computer.
The second abstraction layer built on top of that is what is commonly referred to as the Web. The benefit this brought to the masses was that it doesn’t matter where the documents are located physically, but you can access it’s contents anywhere and anytime.

Most people think or assume that this is what the Web 1.0 was all about. Berners-Lee and his people over at the Cern labs wanting to make their research archive freely available to all Cern and associated researchers. As in documents, files, web pages. But -as Sir Tim has explained many times already, they are wrong.

He now explains the ripeness for the third abstraction layer which he refers to as the Giant Global Graph. This graph thing is a mathematical term apparently and he does make some objections to using it -but apparently it’s a common enough term in scientific circles, and as you just saw, that is where his roots are. The Graph signifies the ‘cloud’ of personal data and data relationships that is available on the web today. The term in this context is most often seen with the SocialGraph, which is the sum of all personal friendship relations you have created on all the social network sites out there. Actually, Brad Fitzpartick and David Recordon have a much better definition:

A social graph consists of who an individual is connected to based on the type of connections, such as work, friendship, interests, and location. It differs from a social network, which consists of who an individual is connected to based on the existence/strength of (one type of) connection, such as work. A social graph therefore conceives of connections in a typological way, whereas a social network does so in a binary/spectral way. I.e. a social graph asks what type of connection exists between individuals, whereas a social network simply asks whether the connection exists or how strong it is. Accordingly, a social graph is a more complex/higher-level model of a social system than a social network.

The Social Graph follows the same ideology and pattern as the Sementic Web -the name Berners-Lee gave his continued work on building the web into it’s full 1.0 potential. Basically it means that you -as a user, not as a developer- choose what relationships you have with other people, and that your identity is connected to your other online alter ego’s, and that this includes your network of friends.

For example: you join a social network site by logging in with your OpenID for the first time, and you get a message saying that because you used your OpenID, and because you have made your network relationships part of the public sphere, those friends you have in your network and who are also a member of that social network site are listed for convenient adding to your friends list on that site. And why is this convenient?

Well, it follows the rather simple and thus powerful idea that friends are people too, and that they are not limited to one network site like Last.FM. I mean, my friends are on Hyves (a popular Dutch Facebook-alike site), LinkedIn (because I made them), Facebook (those with international contacts), Last.FM, Flickr, just to name a few. They’re the same people, why should I have to tell each site that I know them?

The benefits of this are obvious, and the potential for new and improved webapplications are boundless for now. But most importantly, this brings the simple yet fundamental point of who owns my data (me!) closer. When implemented correctly, I -the user- will be the one who decides what part of my network I want to share my music tastes with, and what part my resumé. And if this concept goes on, I can share content other then identity and relationships as well, like my photo’s, or my ideas, or my scribbles, or whatever. Data -more importantly, my data, will be portable.

Lets call this the Web 4.0 (3.0 already having been claimed by the mobile content industry). Naah, lets just call it what it really is: the evolution of the Web 1.0. To finally come closer to what it was originally designed to do.

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