Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Relationships are real

In my previous post I touched on the question of what is a Map. In our world, today, computers tend to make the distinction between the 'real world' and the representation of the world 'fuzzy'. 

If I have an interactive 'map' of my water system and I redirect the water flow from that map; which came first.... Is the physical system now simply a representation of the virtual model? Is it a physical 'memory' of the state that I changed on my computer or is it the other way round? If the 'map' and the state of the valves in the water system are 'out of synch' which is right? My intention was to redirect the flow, therefore the 'map' is right and the water is flowing wrong. I need to fix the valve so that it correctly represents the map... or do I?  

Conventionally one would assume that the map represents the physical state and that 'instructions' either successfully change the state or not. The map should be a representation of state not the authority for it. The software has the capability to 'poll' the physical networks state such that if the state changes the map can 'auto-correct' to current conditions. Depending on the completeness of the software we just have to hope that the physical network never gets into a state that it doesn't know how to represent. 

But here's the fuzziness again. If the valve has a processor and a network connection (which it would have to have to respond to instructions) it can also 'poll' the system for what it's current state should be and auto-correct. So at what point is the physical system just solid state memory?

Another example I have been thinking about is gerrymandering. Does that districting map dictate where people vote or does it represent where they vote?

This makes my head hurt!!

All of this is not JUST mental masturbation; I'm trying to work out what comes first a 'map' of the social graph that establishes our relationships and is 'portable' or is there some other manifestation of relationship that the social graph is a portable representation of.

Here's my conclusion...

Relationships are real. Directed relationship objects MUST be reified in the identity network. Maps of the social graph will show different aspects (attributes) of both types of top level entity; entities AND relationships. Like interactive maps of the physical world where you can layer utilities, streets, satellite pictures and geo-political attributes to communicate (makes portable) the state of a given physical area. The 'social graph' is a map that communicates (makes portable) the state of some entities and their relationships. 

An important quality of the 'portable social graph' is that each 'map' only represents a sub-section of reality.  I would expect different people might have access to different 'maps'. I would expose different sub-sets of my entity and relationships data to different 'mapping authorities'.

So this leads me to the conclusion that before we can really address social graph portability we need a better understanding of what relationships are.

In systems that I have built that have reified the relationship object I have found the following qualities necessary...

  • Relationships are unidirectional and COMPLETELY controlled by the 'root' end of the arc. 
  • Relationships are no different from any other 'claim' that I make about you, totally unsubstantiated. (good mapping authorities MIGHT only show reciprocated or verified relationship claims)
  • Other people are ALWAYS interacting with one (or more) of my relationship objects NOT with my entity object.  (that's the point of reifying the relationship)
  • Relationship objects contain several different types of data...
  1. Data that I keep about you, that is mine, only mine and is never meant to be shared. Stuff like "this guy tells really bad jokes" or "it's not in his profile but I know his home phone number is XXX"
  2. Pointers to the data about me that I want you to have access to. (in my world, it is the relationship object that dereferences the pointers NOT the 'other' entity).
  3. Pointers to (and caches of) information that you have exposed to me about you (and sometimes others).
XFN or FOAF are ways for me to expose a sub-set of my entity and relationships to PUBLIC mapping authorities. They are but a map of something a LOT more complex that needs to be given a lot more attention. 

(of course xdi has all of this solved... if only you would all just use it :-) )

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