Social Physics

In my morning mail (Thank’s Karim!) a pointer to Social Physics yet another assault on the tough problem of how to manage the identity, persona, privacy problem. This assault distinguishes it’s self by attempting to push the problem to the edges of the network and thus reduce the role of the middlemen. A fine design goal as far as it goes. People who strive for that are often running blind to both power-law nature of what emerges on top of these platforms and the value that middlemen bring to the party.

Blindness to the power-law can be fatal; or more typically it just limits your scale. I see signs that they suffer from it in their somewhat gassy introductory manifesto. It’s on the front page. It insists on framing the problem into the well worn 20th century dialectics where big is bad and small is good, and middlemen are ways suspect. For example: “Who has 687,389 trusted friends? Nobody.” This just misses the point so widely it makes my head spin. Most of the economy runs thru entities of that kind – governments, the credit card firms, etc. etc. So lots of entities have millions of of trust relationships. To fail to take this to heart only assures that we encourage the emergence of two solutions; one for each class. That’s a horse race I’d rather we avoided.

There is a lot to like here. Particularly for the engineer of software/network-systems/standards. A commitment to severing the desires and needs of the small player in the persona/relationship market. They have pulled a lot of fun technology cards out of the deck: P2P, Jung’s data model, etc. They are not naive about what it takes to get the bandwagon to pick up speed – particularly when doing a bottom up standards play.

I’m going to enjoy taking a closer look.

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