Decentralization: The Future of Online Social Networking

Social networking forms an important part of online activities of Web users. However, social networking sites present two problems. Firstly, these sites form information silos. Information on one site is not usable in the others. Secondly such sites do not allow users much control over how their personal information is disseminated, which results in potential privacy problems.

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Illustration: David Simonds for The Economist, 2008

This paper presents how these problems can be solved by adopting a decentralized approach to online social networking. With this approach, users do not have to be bounded by a particular social networking service. This can provide the same or even higher level of user interaction as with many of the popular social networking sites we have today. It also allows users to have more control over their own data.

A decentralized social networking framework described is based on open technologies such as Linked Data [Berners-Lee 2006], Semantic Web ontologies, open single-signon identity systems, and access control.

Source: MIT

A Former Facebook Manager’s Scathing Rebuke

Sandy Parakilas, a former operations manager at Facebook, recounts a third-party developer taking user information to create unauthorized Facebook profiles for real children. Facebook executives took little action in response. As Parakilas points out, Facebook has no business interest in regulating its advertisers or safeguarding its customer data from abuse. That’s because its advertising model is built on automation that serves up vast amounts of consumer data, rewards emotionally engaging content and makes it easy for anyone to spend a few cents on an ad.

Source: USA Today

Social Media and Psychological Health

Major social media companies now extend beyond apps and platforms, taking on the status of infrastructures and institutions. [As such, they] ought to consult with trained social researchers to design interfaces, implement policies, and understand the implications of their products. Social media are not just things people use, places they go to, or activities they do. Social media shape the flows of social life, structure civic engagement, and integrate with affect, identity and selfhood.

Source: Jenny Davis (Cyborgology) via The Society Pages

What Is a Federated Network?

In politics, a federation is a union of states (or other entities) that are partially self-governing and independent but have transferred a set of responsibilities and duties to a central government that unites them.

What’s a federated network, then? Alternative social networks such as Diaspora and Lorea have been described as adopting a federated structure, but their server architecture is often strongly reminiscent of [Paul] Baran’s description of a decentralized system. In Diaspora, for example, users become a member of a “pod,” and in principle only connect directly with their own pod; these pods in turn are connected to each other to allow users in different pods to interact with each other. This matches the “distributed network of centralized networks” description. Is federation just a synonym for decentralization, then? It depends on who you ask.

Source: Unlike Us via Institute of Network Cultures

The Scary Hidden World of Dark Social

We’d like to think that what we choose to share is a reflection of who we are, but the data suggests there’s a discrepancy between the persona we present to the world on open social versus our deeper desires and interests reserved for private sharing.

The rise of chat apps has led to more social sharing between individuals and small groups. There are different types of dark data, which has made engagement harder to track. There are two main ways for readers to share content online: use a share button or copy/paste the link. The first one is easy to track; the second isn’t. In 2012, The Atlantic’s Alexis Madrigal came up with the term “dark social” to describe the “vast trove of social traffic is essentially invisible to most analytics programs.” Per RadiumOne, 84 percent of sharing from publisher and marketing websites now takes place via private dark social channels such as email and IM.

Publishers and marketers could cut back on content if they only see a few shares per story. But they may want to rethink that. It could help to make sharing as easy as possible so readers don’t have to go dark. For example, you could create private sharing buttons on your websites for email, SMS, and chat platforms like WhatsApp.

Source: Contently

David Kirkpatrick: Nightmare Net Scenario ‘Already Happening’

Facebook’s Newsfeed and Google’s search results are the two most central sources of digital information for the world. For each of them, all decisions about what information is given priority and visibility are made by one commercial company whose primary goal is ad revenue and profit. There is no consultation with the public, no regulatory oversight, and no recourse for errors or distortions.

The least neutral places on the internet are the Newsfeed and Google search. There are no such mechanisms that might deter, regulate, or formally disclose distortions that arise from the Newsfeed and Google search. No credible proposals are being discussed anywhere that would address the absolute control these still-growing net colossi have over the public dialogue.

Source: David Kirkpatrick via Techonomy

Decentralized Systems Alone Won’t Address Threats

It’s not clear we can solve the nuanced issues of centralization by pushing for “re-decentralization” of publishing online. Most people do not want to run their own web servers or social network nodes. They want to engage through friendlier platforms, and these will be constrained by the same forces that drive consolidation today.

A better strategy would be to pursue policies that strengthen the environment for decentralized platforms, including data portability, interoperability, and alternatives to advertising-based funding models. For instance, if users have more control of their data, they’ll be more willing to experiment with new platforms.

Decentralized web advocates have good intentions, but there’s no silver-bullet technical solution for the challenges that lie ahead.

Source: Wired

Taylor Owen on Social Media and a ‘Growing Crisis in Our Democracies’

Digital Media and Global Affairs expert Dr. Taylor Owen argues the reality of the internet is now largely one of control, by four platform companies — Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple — worth a combined $2.7 trillion — and their impact on democracy is deeply troubling. In an open letter, Owen writes:

Our common grounding and ability to act as a collective are being undermined. We must take ownership of our digital lives. It means thinking very differently about the bargain that platforms are offering us. The answer isn’t to disengage, as these tools are embedded in our society, but instead to think critically about this bargain. But acting as individuals is insufficient. Platform companies are among the largest and most profitable in the world. They shape the internet, are the world’s market place, and are even planning and developing our cities. Their scale and power demands a collective response. This will mean altering our model of governance.

Source: Taylor Owen via CBC/Radio-Canada

How to Make Ideas, Innovation Count in Today’s ‘Tomorrow Workplace’

Simply deploying a social network and expecting automatic engagement and a culture of social collaboration from employees is an optimistic laden exercise in futility. Social software is only effective if your targeted users (employees or customers) are actually using it for communication.

  1. Seek out diversity
  2. Understand the motivations of the crowd to participate and engage your audience
  3. Successfully identify and pursue the right ideas for business outcomes
  4. Get the outcomes you want through rewards and recognition
  5. Measure effectiveness and usage

Employees’ cognitive surplus is the most valuable, most under-utilized asset organizations have. Tap into that surplus and encourage the best ideas to come to the forefront through more targeted, specific innovation management platforms.

Source: Wired