aku-aku: v.. To move a tall, flat bottomed object (such as a bookshelf) by swiveling it alternatively on its corners in a "walking" fashion. [After the book by Thor Heyerdahl theorising the statues of Easter Island were moved in this fashion.] source: LangMaker.com. Aku Aku also has another meaning to the islanders: a spiritual guide.
« so you want to learn japanese | Main Page | grouped friendster globe »
have you no shame?
Posted by dav at 2003 June 15 07:36 PM
File under: Geek

Joi Ito furrows his brow over porn URLs being posted in his irc channel #joiito:

I'm now grappling with the issue of creating an open and chatty atmosphere on IRC and not restricting people's behavior very much, but still keeping it a comfortable place for people who don't enjoy talking about sex and are uncomfortable with pornography. I don't think pornography has any place on my channel and I officially ask people not to "promote" pornography.

Yes he has his own irc channel, but I'm going to withold my thoughts on what it must feel like to have created a chat channel named after yourself because he's been raked over the coals already recently. Also, I named my 3D anaglyphic project g3dav so I can't really cast stones.

I mention Joi's issue because it got me thinking again of the old Internet problem of mapping social constraints that have evolved in the real world into cyberspace equivalents. The usual example is the "bad part of town" construct. In the real world pornography isn't such a big deal because the strip clubs, adult bookstores and theaters are all in the "bad part of town" where your innocent child or delicate sensibilities won't be wandering around and unexpectedly stumble upon a patch of lurid activity. Of course on the Internet you're never more than a few keystrokes or a random mouse click away from something that would just ruin your day. For example (and I seriously suggest you DO NOT CLICK ON THE FOLLOWING LINK and just take my word for it): http://www.goatse.cx/ (told ya).

When WASTE was released it turned up the heat on some musings about the graph network of the Internet social fabric that I had simmering on a back burner for the past couple of years. I've since then had a number of discussions with others about what an Internet based on a peer-to-peer network-of-trusted-networks would look like. Joi's post caused me to re-examine the "bad part of town" problem in new terms.

So here's my five minutes of brain storming on the matter:

IRC is a wide open public chat system. The barrier to entry is low and most channels are public and unmoderated. You can have a private IRC channel that is hidden and/or invite-only (I've been on one for 6 years now actually), but that wouldn't work for something like #joiito because I'm pretty certain Joi wants to participate in communication between total strangers (people whose only assured commonality is that they read his blog), not just people already in his social network. In the real world you can have a gathering in a public place, say a weekly meetup at a cafe, and be reasonably certain that the meetup won't be overrun with people who are behaving in a matter that is disrupting the social norms. If you're having a gathering to discuss the works of Don Delillo and someone comes in and starts taping Hustler centerfolds to the furniture the problem will be taken care of in rather short order. Meatspace allows a number of mechanisms for resolving and preventing it. Social shame. Security guards.

Moderators are the IRC equivalent of security guards, but many people find the idea of moderation a bit draconian. There currently isn't much of a cyberspace equivalent of social shame though. No one knows you're a dog, yada yada yada. Some people basically behave like cretins online.

In the new network we are imagining these days Trust Networks can implement a social shame mechanism. WASTE allowed for encrypted communication though public key cryptography. The nice thing about this is that it not only provides a good level of encryption but it also provides identity authentication. I believe it has been suitably demonstrated that people are willing to give up anonymity when the occasion calls for it (although, strictly speaking it's not necessarily your real world identity that is authenticated but your online identity, so some level of anonymity is available, like a blind study). Once your identity is established then social networks such as FOAF and reputation systems can create a foundation for the same sociological mechanisms which work in the real world.

So imagine that Ito-san creates an IRC channel and configures it so that anyone with up to 6 degrees of separation from him can join it. Besides the popular folk wisdom, I know from examining the growth-per-hop of my own social network that the chances are pretty good that most everyone who would want to join #joiito would meet that requirement.

In this scenario, anyone who is on the chat channel has a reputation to protect. And even if someone doesn't care about their reputation, then someone along the network path leading back to Joi will care. Joi is friends with Alice. Alice is friends with Bob. Bob is friends with Chuck. Chuck posts the goatse.cx URL to #joiito, which everyone knows is a no-no. Chuck gets warned, but he keeps it up. Chuck gets banned. Additionally Bob gets marked as someone whose friends aren't to be allowed into the group. Bob is automatically alerted to this and isn't too happy. Bob emails Chuck and says "Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?" Perhaps Bob could at this point drop Chuck from his to-be-trusted set of friends, which will automatically lift the ban on his other friends. Note that there can be different sets of social network connections, like "I vouch for this person in this context" categories, such as "professional", "polite", "intellectual", "cool".... Perhaps the #joiito configuration specfies the "intellectual" and "polite" connections.

Chuck could create a new persona and try to get into the network again, but someone has to exchange links with him. If anyone becomes known as someone who links to just anyone then they will become untrusted themselves. It seems to be feasible to embed a reasonable social shame and reputation mechanism that is no more draconian than the one that works in the real world.


That's generally the logic behind social reputation systems, and it seems completely viable to me. But I love watching it play out, with the inevitable surprises. Whenever I think I can predict human behavior (especially when mediated by computers) it always turns around and bites me in the ass when I least expect it.

By the way, if you believe the mathematicians and the social scientists on this (which I do), -everyone- on the planet would most likely be eligible for Ito's chat room, if he limited admission to people within six degrees of him. That might still be true if he set it to five. (Details: see "Linked: The New Science of Networks" and "The Tipping Point").

Two or three would be more like it. But then, you'd still run into big problems, because it's thrown off by users that fall into a certain class -- these are the people who are very trustworthy, but whose ability to judge trustworthiness sucks. There are a few people on this planet whom I love dearly and would trust with anything involving character, and who are very intelligent when it comes to book smarts, but who are complete suckers. On the other hand, some people have almost supernatural intuition regarding lies or unwholesome intentions. Then you have paranoid people like me who can be too quick to tag people "untrustworthy."

Then there are the guys with great intuition that turns to shit when they meet any woman with large breasts, whom they automatically trust. But that's another story...

Of course this throws another huge layer of complication into the mix, but I think consideration and ratings of people's gullibility, in addition to trustworthiness, would substantially improve the effectiveness of such a trust system.

PS- I no longer trust your ability to judge appropriate images to link to from your weblog. And it scares me to consider where you found that link to begin with...

Posted by: sean on June 17, 2003 12:00 AM

hmn, interesting. digital identity....

Posted by: Michael Fagan on June 29, 2003 08:33 PM

Post a new comment:

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?