09 August 2005

The Semantic Blogosphere

danah boyd raises some fascinating and important ideas when she queries the biases of links.
I began this investigation curious about gender differences. There are a few things that we know in social networks. First, our social networks are frequently split by gender (from childhood on). Second, men tend to have large numbers of weak ties and women tend to have fewer, but stronger ties. This means that in traditional social networks, men tend to know far more people but not nearly as intimately as those women know. (This is a huge advantage for men in professional spheres but tends to wreak havoc when social support becomes more necessary and is often attributed to depression later in life.)
Using a random sample of 500 non-group blogs obtained from Technorati, danah does some relatively simple groupings, counts and observations. The entire piece is well worth reading and pondering. However, what caught my attention were the implications of power and influence with respect to links.

In a GoogleWorld, PageRank means reputation and "authority," and PageRank is directly a function of links from pages that themselves have high PageRank. In an environment in which Technorati rating, or Daypop scores, or other methods of ranking determine one's influence in the blogosphere - that subsequently transmediates to influence and reputation in physical space and traditional mass media - matter, it is important that we critically consider the semantics of links.

danah points out that "All links are created equal. All relationships are not. Treating everything like a consistent weak tie is quantity over quality and in social networks, that means male over female." In other words, there is an implicit meaning to a link - that might otherwise be considered neutral - that is actually wrong, since the act of linking carries with it tacit meaning, governed by the hidden ground of the linker. danah suggests that male-created links have a different meaning than female-created links, and I'm inclined to agree. Additionally, many people link to web pages and blog posts with which they agree; on the other hand, many link to web pages and blog posts that they are criticizing. The act of linking carries with it a reputation and credibility endorsement that may, or may not, be the intent of the linker. Hypertext has created the syntax of linking; there needs to be a commensurate semantics.

Many will point to the plethora of writing on the so-called semantic web, that (to be entirely dismissive by the short shrifting I'm about to do) seems to have an intent of imposing a taxonomic and ontological structure imported from the literate era. Tagging seems to be a way of associating some metadata with particular postings and pages that might result in the creation of an ad-hoc taxonomy (commonly called "folksonomy"). Still, we seem to be stuck in the mental metaphor of categorizing and classification - artefacts of the book era.

This is a roundabout way of proposing the claim that the current approach to the so-called semantic web is a Grand Waste of Time.

What might be useful instead is to think about a grammar and rhetoric of the hyperlink, developed in an environment of critical sensibility. It is clear that an explicit mechanism to contextualize the link is required, since overlapping contexts is a dominant form under conditions of pervasive proximity.

[Technorati tags: ]

No comments: