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?

My site as a graphThis is a multi-part story about the themes I picked up at the Reboot 8 conference in Copenhagen, June 1st and 2nd.
Relationships above Information/Technology
Putting relationships above information shifts your perspective on what information filtering is dramatically. Something I noted here a number of times but which is not something that everybody easily or automatically grasps and accepts. On a number of occasions the notion came up that if you want to keep knowledge alive in your organisation, or want to ‘store’ it or protect from getting lost, you need to share it, and need to build more and stronger relationships around it. The announced death of marketing as broadcasting fits here too, as does the rebirth of marketing in its original shape of bringing your goods to market and weaving relationships around it.
Another major ingredient for filtering and dealing with information abundance. Visualization so that we may see the patterns. Pattern watching is much more important than the individual pieces of information when you are trying to make sense of the world around you, and want to see trends. Combining visualization and relationships is when information filtering really starts to get into its own.
Technology helping you to be a social animal while on the move. Staying connected to your existing relationships and being able to spot the opportunities for new ones. Who is near you, in your proximity, who is in your general location, and how can I share with them and my relationships at home and elsewhere. Plazes and Imity are examples of aspects of this. Contactivity is social connectivity. It needs technological connectivity but is a totally different beast.
ContactivityThis posting and the last four sum up the major themes I took away from Reboot, and which are likely to come up in the postings in the coming months.
All parts in this story:
I Renaissance
II Diversity
III Good Enough
IV Privacy and Ownership
V Relationships, Visualization, Contactivity

Photo’s: both by me.

During BarCamp Amsterdam last Friday I prepared a few sheets that in the end I didn’t use. As everybody was busy coding or already in a presentation, and by the end of the afternoon everybody was starting to concentrate on the beer in the fridge more, I didn’t see a useful window of opportunity to get a group together for what is basically a conversation around a question I have. It concerns peer to peer social networking, and at this point is much more about concepts than tools I think. So Roland, sorry I didn’t grab a room and presented this, but let’s see if this conversation can get off the ground here as well.
My starting point is the notion that Information Overload doesn’t exist. The perceived stress is the symptom of failing information strategies that work fine in an environment where info is scarce but do not scale to the information abundance the internet offers us.
social network as info filter
A good way to build strategies that do work in information abundance, is taking the social context of information into account.
pattern search key
Doing that you then look for patterns without paying much attention to individual information items (the outside-in approach), or focus and those singular items that relate to a specific list of topics that concerns your current goals and actions (inside-out approach). Also, as you look at information within its social context (that basically taking its human source into account)  you try to move up information paths and networks of your contacts that are the source of that information.
Moving up those paths, and having a clear notion of the social context of an information item, requires some social networking tools if done on-line. The first generation yasns (linked-in, openbc, tribe, orkut etc) don’t cut it for me. Firstly because they have my data somewhere else, in the clubhouse so to speak, and if I am to do anything with it I have to do it in that clubhouse. As if my whole life takes places there, and I am not meeting people in the on-line equivalents of my home, my friends houses, my fav pubs, and public squares etc. Also relations require substance, an object to revolve around. Networking for the sake of networking such as most yasns seem to only offer is useless. Flickr and Plazes on the other hand readily provide object to form and have relations around.
What I really want from social networking tools is:
a) to have my data at home, or at least in one, not service specific, location where I can control it.
b) to finely nuance the levels of trust around information items I share (so that e.g. friends see more in my blog than the general public.But being able to specify that seamlessly per item per context, not as general settings only or merely on/off)
c) to be in the center of my own network, be able to visualize that, spider it, and do that in real time and over time. (Like Anjo Anjewierden in the picture above, or Valdis Krebs does)
How to do that? I don’t know.
I would like to have a true peer to peer social networking platform. Also I’d like to have my own spiders and agents.
FOAF isn’t ready for this kind of thing I think, but we might look to an existing p2p infrastructure like Skype to be a carrier. Boris Mann pretty much repeatedly said Jabber can do anything during BarCamp, and seemed to be only half joking.
What do you think?

Yesterday saw the release of Skype
Apart from some bugfixes, extra language support and improving on the API (important!), Skype makes a small step to adding social networking like features to Skype with this 1.4 release.
The profile page will now show how many people are in your contact list. This can have interesting consequences, as Stuart at SkypeJournal also notes. For those of you who are publicly listed this might be something to opt out of, but I use Skype with a closed list of users, and can only be called by people in my list (though I leave the chat function open). These are people that are part of my social network, and I am happy to share my network with them. Otherwise they would not be in my list in the first place. So for those people I might want to disclose not only the number of contacts (which to me means nothing) but who those contacts are.
That to me would be a better way of sharing my network than with for instance LinkedIn. Not in terms of the information that is shared, but because of where that information resides. With LinkedIn OpenBC and all other YASN’s I hand over my information to a third party. What I’d really want is a peer to peer social networking application, as it allows people to control the information at the source (themselves) and share what they like in situations they like. FOAF builds on that, but is only a machine readable format at this stage. Maybe piggybacking on existing peer to peer infrastructure such as Skype is a way to gain traction for a distributed social networking functionality?

Last april I wrote about how I read RSS.
I described two main approaches:

One is to simply browse through the feeds to get a feeling of what is going on, what themes are getting attention. To detect patterns. Because I try to see RSS feeds as parts of a conversation (I subscribe to people not feeds), listening to what these voices are telling me, is using my social network as a filter, a community filter. Gossip 2.0, so to speak. In this mode I hardly read any specific postings, and if I blog something because of it, it is triggerd by patterns I see.
The other approach has its starting point in myself. Whatever I am currently working on or interested in, questions I am exploring etc. (such as information strategies right now), trigger reading specific postings, commenting and blogging.

The first approach is based on pattern recognition, and filtering sources through an understanding of their origin and context. Objectivity is replaced by multi-subjectivity to weigh information. Information items do not stand by themselves but are built into social contexts (the experience and attitude of the source are factored into the perceived value of the information), and are only evaluated on an aggregated level. Observed patterns are then categorized as requiring action, requiring observation, or they are ignored. This is very much an outside-in approach and requires awareness of which sources of information I have and purposefully seeking out large numbers of additional sources.

In short in this first approach it is you, the collective of yous, that is my filter. This filter is based on its social characteristics, and it gets better when additional people (that I have some knowledge of: context is needed) are added to it. So this filter thrives on having more information not less. This is the main reason I say that information overload does not exist.

In the picture below, all of you are the filter on the left: I see what you think is important for me to see.

The second approach is inside-out oriented and is based on heightened self-knowledge and self-reflection, either as an individual or as a group in terms of (collective) ambition and goals. Here information items are considered by themselves, though imbedded in their social context, based on direct personal or group relevance in guiding action.

In the picture above, I am the filter on the right: I look at all that comes at me, and pick-up on what is relevant for me now. Other stuff might get filed. One of the important actions to take is sharing.

Sharing parts of the outcome of these two types of filtering (you and me) with all of those that include me as a source of information is a key element of your overall information strategy. This is what creates feedback loops. Because what works as filtering for me, works the same way for you. See the picture below.


Now if at least part of your input channels, have your output as input as well, we create feedback loops. Feedback are an important factor of the emergence of patterns. This way sharing helps to sustain and strengthen my own ability for pattern recognition, it reinforces the power of my filtering. There is one caveat though: if all the inputs to both our filters are too much alike, we end up in an echo-chamber of our own making. So that is something you have to do a reality check on every now and then. Self knowledge, the filter that is me on the right hand side, is what helps you prevent your outside-in filter becoming the wall of your echo-chamber.


(The original filter picture I drew during a great conversation with my good friend Patrick last August in Switzerland. Apart from being a bright guy to talk to, he also makes a terrific Swiss cheese fondue)