I just found this link to a talk given at Northern Voice on Community Blogging by Stephen Downes
He wonders about how we manage to pull off the Semantic Social Network. It seems that a key element is functional digital identity for people. I extracted some highlights for you all:
(pssst – he works for the National Research Council of Canada so we might talk with him about XRI/XDI/IC.)
Now my field of study is online learning. That’s where my expertise lies, and I actually don’t really know very much about social networks or blogs or things like that. In online learning… learning – schools, universities – they’re almost the prototypical communities, aren’t they? You gather all these people into one place, you organize them into classes, you get a bunch of subjects together, you slice and dice the range of knowledge that people are supposed to have in order to become productive and obedient members of society.
But community as networks of semantic relations, that’s where the connections between members of the community are based on the meaning of those members or of the entities in the network. In other words, in order to create community, rather than a power law, we don’t simply pick the most popular or the most available, we pick the most salient connection.
Well. What does that mean? How does something become the most salient connection? Well we need to analyze, or look at, at least for a moment, what a post means. Or what anything means. What a resource means. Now I say that, I’m saying, what does this post, or this person, or this resource, say about the world?
How do you know the meaning of a word? You look at how people use it, you look at the context, you look at who uses it, where they use it, what the environment is in which it has been used, what other words are around it, and if you define meaning in that way, then the meaning of a word can’t be stated as a set of necessary and sufficient conditions. It becomes something very different, something that Wittgenstein called ‘family resemblances’. Now I was looking at the word ‘community’ and looking for definitions of community, one of the posts, or one of the definitions that I read was, “Well, community is like pornography. I don’t know what it is but I recognize it when I see it.” And it’s that sort of sense of meaning inherent in a word, in a post, and indeed, in a person.
Two ways of looking at the world.
Because there are two ways of looking at the world. One way is to look at the world from the point of view of words. And you try to describe things. Another way of looking at the world is to look at the patterns. And try to see what emerges out of them. If you look at the diagram there, that little messy bit of lines and dots is a concept. Could be any concept, could be a blog post, could be the word ‘Paris’, could be your self-identity. Now if you use words, you cut through that cluster like a knife and you get a one-dimensional partial representation, you get an abstraction, but if you look at it from the point of view of patterns, then the meaning of that concept emerges from that cluster of entities and relations.
Future learning environments place the individual at the centre – that’s where it says ‘Future VLE’ – and a range of resources that they bring in, or that they aggregate, from a wide variety of different sources. Notice he has 43 Things on there. That actually places that diagram at a precise moment in history. And if you look at community in this picture, then you’re able to draw out a theory of community, where a community is defined by three major components. First, as a means of organizing input and experience. Second, as a means of putting that experience into context. What does it mean to you here now? And then third, and very importantly, as a means of taking what you’ve done, what you’ve remixed, what you’re repurposed, and putting it out there so it can become part of someone else’s meaning. Just imagine how the copyright barons look at this model of organization, right? Community is antithetical to copyright, and conversely.
The idea here is that the community is defined as the relations between the members where the relations have semantical value, where that semantical value is defined by the relations. And I know it sounds like bootstrapping, but we’ve been doing that throughout history. People exist in relations to other people, to things, to resources, even to spaces.
So how do we pull this off? We can’t just blast four million blogs, eight quadrillion blog posts, out there, and hope Technorati will do the job, because Technorati won’t do the job, because Technorati represents the whole four million things and I’m not interested in three million nine hundred and ninety-nine of those. What has to happen is this mass of posts has to self-organize in some way. Which means there has to be a process of filtering. But filtering that is not just random. And filtering that isn’t like spam blocking. Filtering has to be a mechanism of determining what it is we want, because it’s a lot easier to determine what we want than what we don’t want.
My contention is that instead of the spike-based power-law-based Instapundit-based network, that when we get something like the semantic social network, and we will get something like the semantic social network, because it’s very simple to do, patterns of organization will be created. In the field of neural networks and connectionism they tyem ‘clusters’, you get a cluster phenomenon where we’re not creating communities around a specific word, or specific concept, but the community itself emerges as being created by and defined as that particularly dense set of connections.