Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Google+ And the Semantic Web

Google Plus and the Semantic Web

Google+, Facebook's newest and strongest competitor has just been released, bringing with it some interesting architectural changes. There are two changes in particular that caught my interest, circles vs. groups/categories and following vs. frending. I believe each of these changes to be both conceptually and technologicaly closer to a more semantic and stronger social network model.

The first of them is Circles. To manage privacy google employs the concept of social circles, overlapping, nested, or disjoint conceptual categories in which we place friends. For instance, when categorizing Alice, Bob, and Charlie, I might be using the groups "Office", "Friends", and "Kayaking Buddies", with Alice in Office, Bob in Office & Friends, and Charlie in Kayaking Buddies. From there you can output messages or share information on your profile with specific groups, such as only sharing your cellphone number with Friends.

While this kind of categorization has been done before it's often been in non-overlapping groups, where someone cannot be in both "Office" and "Friends". The architecture of Google+ instead encourages users to conceptualize contacts as members of a kind of schema of semi-overlapping classes, a definite step towards a semantic understanding.

The second is the follow vs. friend change. In facebook and many other social networks friendship is a binary reflexive property between two individuals (i.e. A friend B & B friend A, or neither are friends). Google+ however employs a different model, in which one follows individuals by putting them in one or more circles. This is a single directional relationship, a more general class than before. Secondly, it is far more conducive to a semantic representation, in which the object of the relationship is instead referred to by URL, an address to their location. With that simple change you could follow individuals on google+, facebook, or even someone who hosts their identity on a local machine.

With the schema-like circle system, and the more semantic friendship model, I think that Google+ could be a step in the long journey of social change necessary for widespread adoption of semantic technology.