Friday, November 24, 2006

Whuffie, Social Networks and Metadata Semantics

I was reading Ambient Findabilty and I saw a reference to a concept called “whuffie”. After checking out the Wikipedia article on whuffie, I discovered that whuffie was reputation-based currency used in Cory Doctorow's sci-fi novel, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. This future history book describes a post-scarcity economy where people purchase goods and services based on their reputation, not just cash.

I was interested in this topic because I think that in the future new keywords with precise semantic mappings will be introduced into declarative systems based on social networks. Right now it just takes too long for new tags to appear in an XML standard. Just think of how long it takes for the w3c to create a new XML tag for something like a menu tab! Up to 10 years based on the rate that the XForms standard is being adopted.

Anyway the book was a great mind-opener. One of the first science fictions books that takes nanotechnology and social networking into account. I have always loved cyber-punk: Neil Stephenson’s Diamond Age being one of my favorites. No time-travel or spaceships: just highly imaginative extrapolations of the net and Moore’s Law.

I like the concept of the post-economic society. When all of our economic needs are met what do we strive for? Why don’t they ever complain about their raises in Star Trek? The book also discusses the concept of an adhocracy: groups that quickly band together to solve problems. Doctorow also looks at the concepts of death, backing up your brain to a persistence store (the immortality SAN) and filtering restores to change values.

What does this matter to the metadata architect? It matters because our march away from procedural programming toward declarative systems is totally dependant on the creation of shared semantics. When you need to pick an XML tag how do you pick the tag that will have the highest probability to have semantic precision in the future? Social networks will help us and when we build systems to vote on which tags get approved not all votes should count the same. Votes by people with high-whuffie should get counted a lot more. The concept of one-person, one vote will be modified in the post-economic society.