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31 December 2007


Kathy Jacobs

I like your rules. But I find one missing: Provide training.
Users of the site need to be willing to be educated about what is proper and improper use of the site, and the company generating the site need to be willing to provide that training in a way that doesn't get in the visitor's way.

In the case of Spock, I don't think any of us who use it and encourage its use recommend it be used in a way that breaks any of the rules you state above. I think the difference comes in what people do when they are on the site. If they send out trust messages without really knowing the people being contacted, is that really any different than someone in FaceBook sending a friend request without really knowing the person to whom it is being sent?

As a social networker, it is my job to ensure that I only accept contacts from people I actually know or from people that are recommended by people I know. That is no different on Spock than on any other network.

Just because the political bots are following me on Twitter doesn't mean I have to follow them or that I am going to recommend them to anyone on my network :)

Jim Benson

But, Kathy, that wasn't Ben's point.

Ben's point was that Spock was breaking the rule of respect for the integrity of information. Spock is publishing information before it has been vetted and presenting it as reliable.


Since I've been invoked, I may as well clarify my own thinking. I posted a second, more in-depth comment to Jim's earlier post, which I'll summarize and expand upon here:

The Web contains three kinds of information about people: (1.) information associated with a person's name by that person (e.g. a profile page on a social networking site), (2.) information associated with a person's name by other people (e.g. a Wikipedia article), and (3.) information associated with a person's name by a machine (e.g. search engine results).

Of course, information of the third kind is almost always one of the other kinds repackaged in response to a query.

A key component of Web literacy is knowing which kind of information is which, and what to expect of each kind. This isn't incidental — many types of information are problematic or impossible to interpret in the absence of this kind of context.

Almost all of the web is built such that I know the status of the information on a site before I see the information itself. This affects the amount of time I'll spend reading, how much I'll trust what I read, and what I can read "between the lines" (what is implied by the fact of the information's being there). The act of reading, in other words, is structured by this meta-information. A site that lacks it will usually be bewildering if not downright misleading.

Spock has several features which seem to violate this:

The ability of people in the community to vote on the validity of tags associated with a given profile seems to mix information of the first and second kind, but this is actually well-understood: Many sites have features where information is provided by one person and then tagged according to its quality by other people. When Web users see this sort of thing, they know what to expect.

More pernicious is the confusion between information of the first and third kinds. There's every difference in the world between a search engine and a social networking site. Users visit them for different reasons and have different expectations about the information they will find.

In particular, users expect that a page which appears to be, or is identified as, someone's profile on a social networking site was created by that person and contains information of their choosing. This is what it means to say, for example, that someone "already has a profile", so when Spock invites you to email people you know who "already have profiles", where those profiles are just search engine results, this is at best unclear and at worst deliberately misleading. I'm pretty sure that this is what most of the complaints have been about.

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