In reply to Better RSS Categories by Wouter Groeneveld

Thank you Wouter for sharing your experiences and describing your feed reading process. Always interesting to gain some insights in how other people work. I’d like to add that to me, the social distance as ordering principle does not create categories. They explicitly aren’t meant to separate or as you say sort by quality. I usually get more interesting stuff from further social distances. One usually knows what ones closest ties know, so not much surprisal there. Good stuff usually comes from weak ties, which by definition are more socially remote. The social distance measure however does two other things for me. Social distance is a measure of sorts of the intensity of conversation I have with people, which underpins both of them.

One is that what I know about the context of people helps in evaluating what they write. Context is a filter, more context clarifies slants, habitual approaches etc. Where I have much less context, I need to better look at statements, sources etc. to place or evaluate the information provided. All this to me is about placing things in contextual webs of (personal) meaning, Connectivism (PDF) style, it’s how I filter.

The second is that it’s a mental map of whom I see myself as being in conversation with and at what level of intensity. So the folders (a rather poor structure, I’d rather be able to tag feeds and use that as a way to create views on the feeds) by social distance are more like spaces or locations to me. The closest circle is more like a living room setting, the furthest the public agora. When I open up my feedreader I choose what my visit to those places will be like. Is it like a walkaround to inspect the genral lay of the land, I will scroll through all, starting with the closest circles. An interesting bit is when the same things pop up at different social distances, feedback propagating lifting signals above the noise. If I only have a bit of time, I’ll only look at the closest ties, to see what they’re up to, a social call of sorts. If I am open for more surprisal and have time to take the first processing step with what I read, I’ll start furthest out. If I am open to interacting with people about topics I’m interested in, I usually start in the middle layers, where there is a more balanced mix of known context and potential for surprisal.

The problem is that social distance categories are just as arbitrary as categorizing them by genre—which most people do and I did before (“games”, “programming”, …). There is no separation in quality. Some IRL/Online friends’ blogs I have in my reader are much more interesting to me than others’. Many sites from category 4 are more interesting than most stuff in category 1.

Wouter Groeneveld

There has been quite a bit of response on my posting where I thought out loud about a search tool to help me find on-line traces of people I met face to face, so that I can follow up.

A large part of the comments seem to implicitly assume the creation of an on-line service where you type in the name of the person you are searching for, and that then comes up with the results from different sources.

Lilia Efimova voices her worry that it should not be too easy to combine all the traces of somebody on-line. There might be a very good reason after all to keep traces seperated. In Lilia’s case that would be the division between private and business life. Not that she thinks it should not be possible to combine those traces, but because it should take some effort to do so. I agree with that. That effort is the investment you make into forming a relationship, and when a relationship grows and deepens it becomes easier to track and interpret traces, as you start seeing what is there between the lines.

Therefore what I envision is not something like the where the one being sought maintains a list of all public traces, nor is it any other one-stop-shop like tool.
I simply need a tool to help me search. I get tired of having to go through many different search screens for each tool and platform in which I want to find if someone has a profile there, filling in the same information each time.

I do not mind that it takes time to get to know somebody, I do not mind that traces might be deliberately hard to connect and that I need to invest in a relationship to see the whole picture. I do mind that the time I spend filling in search forms might be time spent on building those relationships.

So it is precisely as Barbara Kieslinger says in the comments, I still want to be the one searching and deciding myself.
I want a search aid that is completely dumb, unlike the, and does not remember or register anything, nor shares or republishes search results. But a search tool I control that I can give what I already know and then looks where I point it to look. It’s just plain old search really, that can dig as deep as the current level of trust between me and the person the search revolves around allows.

As I do after each conference I am currently busy finding people on-line and adding them to my ‘social filter’ after BlogTalk Reloaded. Basically that means finding their on-line presences and adding them to my feedreader, and connecting to them in different environments such as Plazes, Skype, Flickr, OpenBC/Xing, LinkedIn, 43People etc. Weaving them into my social web so to speak.

Weaving a social web. Image by Pandiyan V, license CC BY NC

I don’t mind to spend the time to think of who I actually want to stay connected to. That after all is part of digesting the event I have visited and part of weaving new relationships. This can be time-consuming but that is not to be helped (except take better notes during an event). For instance today I have spent some time to find out who Marc Barrot is. He seemed familiar from a previous BlogTalk, seamed to know Paolo pretty well, and we had fun conversations. I have looked at his nametag a number of times, resolved to remember his name, but back home I drew a blank. Googling around a bit for him in combination with what I did know about him soon revealed his name.

What I do mind is how much time it actually takes to preserve a bit of context around having met somebody, by trying to find out if somebody is part of an environment where that context can be preserved. When I first started doing that it was fun as sort of a detective story, but nowadays I find it simply is too time consuming, and it really sounds like something a tool can do for me just as well.

Hence my question. Would there be a way to create a search agent that takes the name of a person you’ve met? Ideally you would provide such a search agent with your own account data of all the environments you are part of that you want to have searched. And then it comes back with a number of likely search results that might contain any or all of the following for instance:

Possible blogs of that person
Possible Flickr Feed, or 23 feed
Possible Skypename
Possible IM names
Profile in
Profile in
Profile at
Possible Plazes account
Possible account

So that I could have a look if it indeed is the person I am looking for, and then connect or subscribe. Connecting and subscribing would be manual again. Only I can send out personal messages, only I decide what to add to the feedreader.
Any suggestions, or a sudden inspiration to start coding?
Or any stories on how you do this yourself?