thoughts and observations of a privacy, security and internet researcher, activist, and policy advisor

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Social Networking with Enemies

Have you ever wondered why you can only make "friends" in social networks? At best, you are able to neutrally "connect". Everything about people you don't like is politely ignored - they normally don't even get a message when you turn down their friendship request.

This thinking that the world only consists of nice people being friendly to each other is of course very childish. From the early philosophers over the founders of modern sociology to Karl von Clausewitz's writings on war, we have learned that society is as well structured by conflicts and less nice attitudes towards each other. So, if we really want to build a social graph that represents all relationships among all people*, we have to model enemies and antagonistic relations as well.

So, I was glad to read that humankind has made big progress. Based on XFN (XML Friends Network), we now have a list of specifications for XEN (XML Enemies Network):
XEN is an extension of XFN. Negative relationship terms have been omitted from XFN by design. (...) XEN values can be used in conjunction with microformats such as hCard, rel-nofollow and vote-links, specifically rev="vote-against". (...)

The interesting byproduct of asserting these relationships correlates to the ancient proverb, "Any enemy of my enemy is my friend". By merging the XEN lists, it should be possible to generate XFN relationships on the fly based on shared enemies.

This feature actually might be nice for political activism. You are looking for people who might want to protest with you against the much hated surveillance-enhancing interior affairs minister? No problem, just look for his enemies.

A few examples:
evil-twin: An evil twin is the concept in fiction of someone equal to a character in all respects, except for a radically inverted morality. Symmetric. If the evil twin is literally a twin brother or sister, it should be combined with the XFN value of sibling.

rival: Someone in the same field of study/activity with whom you are vying for recognition and/or advancement. Often symmetric.

nuisance: Someone who annoys you but not to the point of antagonism.
Of course, you sensed it:
XEN is not a microformat. It is a joke.
But like any good joke, XEN tells us a lot about the difficulties of modeling social relations. It even reflects the fact that there can be several different versions of yourself being represented online - think the drunk yourself at the proverbial facebook picture:
The evil twin value can be applied to a version of yourself from an alternate universe or timeline.
You can now - thanks to XEN - tell everybody, and especially your boss, that you hated what you did and even regret the fact that were at that party in the first place. And you can do it with microformats! Now, that is identity management at its current peak.

*The social graph is an idea I don't particularly like, but that is a different story.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Slashdot's zoo system has had friends, fans, foes and freaks for as long as I've been there, and I have seen friendships made as well as fights had (especially the '04 US presidential election, woooeee were the foes a'flying there)...

To your point, I think this makes the relationships at Slashdot much more 3-dimensional than those at a facebook or a myspace. Perhaps the newer sites figure that if they don't allow people to digitally represent anger or repulsion, that it will just won't manifest...

12/6/08 06:06

Anonymous Anonymous said...

See also Matthew Fuller's MEEF Vocabulary Specification 0.1 (

Especially promising:

This property locates a URI where a rumour concerning the entity can be found. Rumours may be generated without including any of the identifying characteristics of the entity and assigned to multiple enemies. The re-use principle is important.

This property identifes the enemy’s favourite tv programme.

12/6/08 08:39

Blogger wainer said...

interesting take on the subject, Ralph; i was in a room, some time ago, questioning the results of research based on hyperlink analysis [for the nth time] as a link is a link is a link, and is not semantically connotated. in other words, this also exposes the limits of googlejuice logic. but beyond the joke, will semantic, web3.0 declarative web assist in this respect? not just an issue of theory, as distortions in reputation have adverse effects on predictability of markets. for attention, right now. for advanced social services, tomorrow.

19/6/08 18:00

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found social networking as a tool which had been primarily designed for social interaction and sharing. You can gain lots of friends and build reputation over the net.

6/8/08 09:02


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