July 9, 2006
Red Herring comments on this, hinting that it may have an impact on Friendsters rivals, namely LinkedIn and social networks Bebo, Tribe.net, and Tagged, but the following line from the patent opens up a more curious concern about the benifits of these so called social network sites:-
“A user of the system can determine the optimal relationship path (i.e., contact pathway) to reach desired individuals.”
The days when users have to rely upon optimising their relationships are almost behind us. Real life, face to face networking is exactly that – you getting out there to meet people – making your own pathways. Our Internet is about a system that enables an optimised connectivity of data – data finds it’s own pathways. Blogging is good at helping this. Wherever the information is, the network will have access to it, it’s just a matter of how that information is indexed, by whom, and how you want that information visualised.
Restricting self-optimising sytems with user intervention is a commercial, not an engineering solution. Patents are no protection to these types of invention – if anything they are fantastic catalysts for innovation – as any Perl coder will tell you – “There’s more than one way to do it.”
But this only going to be possible if ‘users’ leave information out for others to find them. Again, Blogging is good for this, but an open licence to enable other systems to collate and match-make you and other ‘users’ is fundamental.
Take DJ Shaddow’s seminal album, Entroducing… ,
Josh Davies collated and matched a dozens of audio samples to produce a coherent pathway of audio (ahem, something normally called a tune!). Clearance of all this material must have been a headache, but consider if all the source samples were offered by the original artists as open licence material, then the clearance process would have been non-existent, original artists would have been name checked (and possibly inspiring a new audience to check out their back catalogue) – and everyone would have been happy.
How does this relate to the Friendster patent? Well – I don’t think we need to get permission to engage with another persons data/samples etc. Users need that information to be collected so that they can connect to other users FREELY. If a meaningful relationship is there, the 2 parties can take advantage of this. Preventing this connection, by restricting the process to force users to ‘optimise’ the connecting pathways offers few gains to the community or the ‘user’. If anything, this encourages over protection of data that users think is part of their identity. Data is designed to be shared, and if you think it’s part of your identity – then you need to see that it’s is exactly this inherent overlap in each users life that enables an open creative collaboration which supports creativity and trust. Markets are just conversations, anything preventing this is bad business.
Secondly, the arrangement of Entroducing is based upon aesthetics, the groove and beats are to Davies’ taste and support of the Hip Hop genre. This human intervention to optimise a pathway (erm, tune) made up of samples was based upon a vast knowledge of records, yet the relational aesthetics determine the neighbouring samples. At present there is no computer system that can juxtapose media assets/patterns together and determine the emotion/meaning of the composition, so there is a role for ‘users’ to create pathways: it’s that the pathways should not be predetermined by users.