Building Bridges for a People’s People Internet

The Times They are a-Changin’. This old Bob Dylan song (also used by Steve Jobs in one of his keynotes in 1984) holds a lot of truth. We can observe rapid changes in technology and in particular in the USE of technology. People are using “the Internet” for things that no one had thought possible a few years ago. For example, people share pictures or videos with their friends all over the planet or just talk with their families over “the Internet”.

Especially with the advent of social network platforms (Facebook, Xing, MySpace or Google+), we observe a seemingly ever-growing use of Internet technologies. In these platforms, people can create links between themselves and their friends – making use of well established Internet technologies – in particular Hyperlinks which connect entities on the Internet.

The use of existing Internet technologies like the aforementioned Hyperlinks for social purposes turns out to be very interesting when viewed from a conceptual perspective. Until the arrival of social network platforms, the predominant use of Hyperlinks was to create relations between artifacts (i.e., Web pages) on the Internet. Indeed, the standard to identify an artifact on the Internet is called URI which stands for Universal RESOURCE Identifier.

Now, in social networks, URIs are used to identify people. We have links between people instead of links between Web pages (artifacts created BY people). One can argue that the link between people is nothing more than a link between their virtual representations, i.e., resources on the Internet that act as avatars on behalf of people. Basically, nothing changes: we link artifacts. But – and I believe this is an very important observation – a lot has changed for the semantics of the link when it connects people on the Internet.

A relation between people is by no means a static structure: former best friends can become enemies, people get married and then divorce, and so on. And the link on the Internet? Well, the link stays the same, because a link on the Internet has no deeper semantics. The reason is that we create a link between resources. The latter do not change the relation with each other – a Web page cannot become an enemy of another Web page. Hypothetically, if a Web page would become the enemy of another Web page, the link between them can be removed and as such this “destroys” their relation.

As a consequence, we need to create “multi dimensional” links that contain additional information about the kind of relation between Internet artifacts. This has been proposed in in the past by various authors, who introduced the use of so called semantic links which provide the ability to store additional meta information about the nature of a link (e.g., is-a-friend or is-a-colleague).

But there is another dimension that is highly dynamic and even more difficult to capture: people implicitly create relations (links) between Internet resources in their heads when they surf the Internet. In other words: they create memetic connections between pages on the Internet. If we start to collect this kind of information, we can begin to create links between Internet pages which originate from a different source: instead of links that were put on an Internet page by the creator, we get links of the people that visit a page. This results in a collection of Web pages which represent our interests. These connections, when evaluated statistically from user data, represent the people’s Internet: ultimately people decide what and how entities on the Internet are connected. This may be difficult to understand for companies, because they have no links to Web pages of competing companies, even if there is a connection between them (e.g. because people know both companies and surf both Web pages).

The combination of semantic information on the nature of links, i.e., if a link represents a relation between people or between Internet resources and the use of user information creates a new – active – layer on existing Web navigation structures which are realized through Hyperlinks. In this layer, we have relations that are built by the peopleusing the Web.

I call them “bridges”.

your ikangai science Team

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