Posted by: Ben | August 22, 2009

Implications of Our Social Graph

A couple points interest me lately about the social graph.

One:  while it’s old hat now to talk about, I continue to admire the fact that now we are able to keep past friends, acquaintances, and people we’ve met as touchstones by adding them to Facebook.  Life’s relationships hardly seem as ephemeral — I lost touch with a lot of my childhood friends as I left Texas and they stayed within.  But now with Facebook reaching its tendrils into even the older demographics and smaller countries, people I used to spend time with are now becoming visible to me again.  And I will never lose touch with them again as long as we all retain trust in the Facebook system.

How will that affect the way we age, the way we communicate, the way we organize?  Now that we can keep in touch with people from cradle to grave, how will that affect our ability to deal with all of our friends dying or getting sick as they get older?  How will that affect fund-raising when we now can pull favors from our entire life’s social graphs?  If we’re called out for bad behavior, can we use such an extensive social graph to repair our reputations and defend us as good people?

Second point:  what do we do with the people we actively keep out of our Facebook social graphs?  Facebook has finally added the ability to group people so that certain groups can’t see everything about you (i.e. work people can’t see your photos, if you choose to configure it that way).

John Clippinger calls this a negative identity, based on how the immune system works, only exposing itself as much as needed and allowing in anything once it passes basic verification (blood type, usually).

Certainly, many people do not friend their parents.  This is unfortunate but also a coping mechanism.   It might be fixed by Facebook’s new settings.  But there’s that desire to keep one’s parents out of one’s personal life, for individual identity formation.

But what I’m really getting at is what if you meet someone casually, or know someone a long time, and choose to NOT friend them?  That is becoming, now that Facebook is so ubiquitous, quite noticeable to everyone who knows both parties.  Why didn’t he friend me?  It must be because he really has a problem with me.  Now I get messages saying that they don’t want to friend me because they’re trying to limit exposure — they’ll connect with me on LinkedIn, though.  Considering the effort it takes to divide one’s spheres of life like that, it must be a pretty significant psychological issue for people.

Black markets exist because the formal economy does not either recognize the market for those goods as being legal, or because the formal economy is not doing a good enough job providing access to those goods.

How does the negative identity affect a black market for social capital?  Is there a market for those people who are not included in our social graphs?  Does it go beyond social shunning and become a problem in formation of trust and reputation?  If is trying to offer a complete picture of a person in order to formalize a standard for identity and reputation, how does it address the gaps such as distancing oneself from parents and work colleagues, disavowing knowledge of mistresses and affairs, hiding crimes, etc.?

This underground economy of social capital must be expressed in some way to be valuable for accurate reputation calculations.  But how?

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