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Name: Jonas M Luster
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If anyone else comes up from out of the woodworks to give me some unsolicited advice on tattoos, I'll introduce his or her backside to the end of my boot, I swear.

After posting that small piece on tattoo art after 9/11, some (none of which had the chutzpah to actually write a comment) felt compelled to inform me about the dangers and problems associated with tattoo art. Personally, I don't give a flying radish wether you think tattoos depicting the heroes and site of the 9/11 tragedy are appropriate. Heck, I'm not even sure what I think. But body art and tattoos in particular are a part of life ever since the first henna smears adorned the skins of our prehistoric predecessors.

I usually overlook such folly, but there's more. My latest piece of body art is in a more than visible place. And while some may think, that public displays of ink should be a no-no in academia and professional environments, I happen to disagree and have said as much. Which is, by the way, the reason I am wearing short sleeve shirts for interviews. You get the whole bundle, and you might as well inspect it before you buy.

But back to the depravity, evilness, and social stigma that is body art to some.

I'll have you know, that I am not even remotely convinced tattoos or piercings are addictive in any way, shape, or form. Sure, if you're an adrenaline or pain junkie, getting a needle wedged under your skin may have some kind of greatly satisfying effect on you, but there are cheaper and less permanent ways to get that, and there's only so much skin to have fun with. For the rest of us, body art is a part of what we think ourselves to be. Born into this body, I strive to complement it. Just like my puritan (or conservative Jewish) critics, I dress in a way that highlights my strengths and hides my weaknesses. Just like them, I decide on facial hair, haircut, how often to go to the gym, how to brush my teeth, and much more.

I do this to create an outer representation of my inner self. My clothing, my boots (if you know me, you might have noticed that I possess a large number of boots, but no footwear without shafts), my beard, my tattoos - an attempt to project my perceived inner self, in an idealized way, onto my environment.

The latest, and so far most memorable, attack concerning the ink on my body happened today (and is incidentally the reason for this rant, being that I use this site as a means of venting and coping every once in a while :). The lady whose lectures on satanism, the irrelevance of the UN, bad parenting, homelessness, and unemployment seem to have been triggered by the few milliliters of black particles under my skin, just wouldn't stop.

Now, keep in mind, this happened in Los Gatos, the Silicon Valley's third finest (after Los Altos and Woodside) location. Said lady ogled me from behind a set of shaved eyebrows, eyelinered to perfection, smelling worse than a perfume dump, the botox injected and lifted forehead reciding behind a definitely fixed nose and a lifted chin to match.

This is who she is. Like me, she uses artificial means and modifications to enhance and change her physical appearance to match the transrealism of her conscious and sub-sconscious self. She might not realize it, but her body modifications, like mine, serve no other purpose than personal wellbeing, knowing that peers and passersby see her for what she feels she is.

Some go to extraordinary lengths to ensure this. Full-body tattoos, enhanced breasts and augmented chins, designer clothing, a snazzy car, or that "I HEART DICK" T-Shirt. And some, like me, are a little more comfortable with their self, amending and augmenting where they feel it'll help, but generally abstaining from drastic measures.

And yes, despite the diuturnal nature of tattoos, to me their effect is much less drastic than a boob enhancement. Not that I'd get one, anyways. If I ever want a longer penis or bigger breasts, I'll check my inbox - I am sure somewhere there, next to stunning business proposals from my friend the former Nigerian minister of health, I will find an offer that I can not refuse.

Until then, I'll wait for the next rant about my chances as a homeless satanist without a job, just so I can demonstrate why exactly I am wearing boots, and nothing but boots.

The question of presentation and reality transcends more than just the world of body art. Lots has been written about weblogging (and online presences in general) and ones image as reflected by Google, Yahoo, and other search engine / information gathering places.

Between the infrequent but nevertheless dramatic stories of bloggers having been fired from jobs for expressing views or writing pieces on their respective sites we find others failing job interviews or VC negotiations on account of a semblance of reality conveyed to the deciding party by Google.

And then there are those who would not date anyone without at least three pages of Google results to dig in and explore. Or employers whose decision is made in part after an interview and in part after a search for "Candidate Field_of_Work" on one prominent search engine or another.

All those examples show one thing more or less clearly - the circumference of our actions has increased, the distance between actors and observers is drastically reduced. The effect of actions and affiliations has grown to include those not usually in our direct circle of influence. Not unlike the promise of <abbr="Yet Another Social Network Fad">YASNF</abbr> (Yet Another Social Networking Fad), separation has lost in influence, while reliance on a proper self-display has been amplified by technology.

The idea isn't new. During my studies with a Bulgarian Sinti Family, I met a young girl, age 19 or 20. Her skills (a MBA), looks, and heritage would have demanded a high dowry and a groom of equal standing and skills. When I carefully poked into the mystery of her relatively disgraceful marriage, the patriarch told me how she'd been caught age six stealing eggs from her patriarch's hens. Once marked as a thief, her only recourse was to marry outside the family at age 14, accept a low dowry, and live her live in the lower ranks of the Sinti family system. The collective memory of Sinti never forgot.

For the Global Village, Google, mailing list archives, WiKis and Weblogs are the collective memory of a commonwealth, rich in tales and memories of deeds done well and not so well. YASNF applications, like the résumé handed to a prospective employer, are reflections not of the person in question, but an idealized view in but a narrow accord of the applicant's relevant skills and mindset. Employment laws and professional courtesy forbids the giving of negative testimonial in regards to prospective employees, and just like the references given during pre-employment confabs, testimonials in YASNF are carefully screened and rarely indicative of the recipients actual values.

The danger in online research, however, lies not in its width and breadth. It lies anchored within the differences in social norms, folkways, means, and goals associated with either social circumference. Offline activities are adjusted to remain largely within the mores and laws of this world. Actions and reactions are measured through a sieve of knowledge and compared to those folkways and criteria concurrent with the social settings one hopes to enter or lives in.

Online, aside from the at-large setting of basic benchmarks, smaller groups exist by standards, means, and goals different from the unwired world. The acquisition of capital, the achievement of goals, is possible only through those means or through deviant acts unrelated to acts that might be perceived as deviant in other social settings. In fact, perfectly acceptable and normal behavior online might appear deviant to outside, offline, observers.

The conundrum of online and offline convergence is not easily solved. Responses to this all-too-visible issue range from attempts at an almost complete online anonymity to an adoption of ones online persona in offline settings.

And then there are those who endeavor to merge the personae found on- and offline into one holistic representation of ones skills, values, id, and appearance. Darren Barefoot puts it well, when he writes:

``For example, if you Google me in the near-term, you're probably going to read out about Flowers for Al and Don, this strange flower-buying campaign that I'm running at the moment. A potential employer might conclude from that that I'm queer as a three dollar bill. If they did, and didn't hire me as a result, then fair enough (well, not really, but that's not the point here). Even though I'm straight, I probably don't want to work for somebody who makes judgments like that.''

in which he accepts the convergence of his online and offline personality.

Betsy Devine, a well versed and much-read weblogger, however, cautions:

Don't blog your drinking habits, pet peeves, relationship issues, etc. in a personal blog that's on the first page of Google when Mr/Ms Beta types in your name.

Don't blog your drinking habits, pet peeves, relationship issues, etc. in a personal blog that's linked to from a site on the first page of Google when Mr/Ms Beta types in your name.

Hey--limit yourself to corporate/geeky stuff on any page linked to from Google results for your name.

A prospective employer of mine would find a number of things that, if taken out of context, might be construed as exactly the things, Betsy warns about. My writing at the "I Quit Drinking" weblog and my being a moderator of the "I Quit Drinking" bulletin board suggests a recent brush with alcoholism and my attempts at sobriety. Realistically, I would side with Darren here, conceding that an employer whose values are orthogonal to hiring a dry drunk would not be my choice of workplace anyways, but there is more to this. My activities on those two sites are of an advisory nature. I am not a recovering alcoholic, even though I stopped drinking alcohol about four years ago.

Likewise, my future boss may infer an unhealthy infatuation with guns and bar fights from my Google results page. He might conclude a number of things which, outside of context, as bare Google results, may prevent a hiring decision. But, to conclude, as I wrote yesterday in regards to my tattoos:

Which is, by the way, the reason I am wearing short sleeve shirts for interviews. You get the whole bundle, and you might as well inspect it before you buy.

I understand how others might feel differently about this issue. But for me, the 'net is part of who I am. It might not be "me" in the context of an unwired world, but my spending a considerable amount of time online has, of course, affected my presentation. It has cost me employment and it has created employment opportunities. The latter with companies whose understanding of the differences between the online and offline world are deeper, and therefore more conductive towards my skills and expertise.

In the end, it's anyone's decision. Netizen do well to remember that anything they say can and will be held against them at one point or another. And that is how it should be. Accountability for ones actions and convictions might just be the recipe for a more civilized society.

A few more words on communal and social designators.

The difference, I believe, lies not so much in the presentation as it does in the emphasis in either design. Communities are defined as a group of individuals, thus emphasizing individual attributes, such as eye color, political orientation, or number of friends within a given structure. Orkut, in this definition would be such a community site, creating new goals (finding a date, a business opportunity, or gaining more "friends") in itself. So is, for that matter, FOAF, which seems to be little more than vCard data in a new format (RDF). Why the designers of FOAF chose to use RDF rather than an existing and widely adopted format remains a mystery to me, maybe there are advantages, maybe it's just the old NIH. Both formats are easily extended, allow for external descriptors to be declared, and have provisions for inter-personal relationships to be documented and managed. In addition, vCard has a long list of supporting tools, from most mail applications to PIMs and address books.

Social structures stress the links (relationships) between nodes (individuals) rather than the individual itself. A good example of a technical design which focuses on relationships, rather than nodes, is XFN , the XHTML Friends Network.

XFN has a few advantages over communal systems such as Friendster, Orkut, or Tribe, in that it correctly recognizes and displays asynchronous relationships, such as Anna calling Bob a friend, but Bob considering Anna merely an acquaintance. Relationships in 'the field' are rarely as clean cut and simple as Orkut's mutual friends paradigm would suggest. Some are even one-sided, that is, they are maintained unidirectionally, even though this should be considered an exception, rather than a rule.

If social networking technologies are to raise above the current trend of dating facilitators and battles for the most "friends", emphasis needs to be shifted from the individual to its relationships with others. XFN, assisted by tools such as RubHub could be the answer.

The lowercase semantic web offers two interesting means to visualize and ultimately analyze such constructs on the web through its implementation of XFN, the XHTML Friends Network, and VoteLinks, a set of constructive semantics to blueprint approval or disapproval with propositions and similar data.

VoteLinks allow publishers to denote approval or disproval by adding a similar <code>rel</code>attribute.

One of the more interesting application, in this case, would consist of a few simple steps:

  • propose or discuss a proposition in writing on the web.
  • (optionally, see below) Define "seed" individuals
  • Call for vote
  • Readers respond on their webspace
  • Either tally all VoteLinks or
  • Define inclusions or exclusions based on XFN data
Such inclusions could involve simple queries, such as "only tally votes by individuals that have been tagged as friend or acquaintance by me", or "only tally votes that have been linked as 'met' by my seed individuals". The possibilities are endless, covering exclusionary approaches ("do not count votes from individuals with Little Green Footballs in their blogroll") as well as weight assignments ("three votes to my friends, two to their friends, one to everyone else").

Here XFN becomes a quite usable, and readily available, means to build working (if rudimentary) webs of trust, based on familiarity not with the voting party, but on acquaintanceship between a defined seed, who enjoys the proponents trust, to the voter.

The advantages of such a system are quite clear - by embedding a vote into a publicized information fragment, discussions of the voting behavior are easy and fundamentally remain associated to the vote. Neither XFN nor VoteLinks require additional software or technical changes to the proponents or voters setup. Infrastructures, such as Technorati and RubHub are already available, and inband designators should speed up adoption considerably, compared to out of band solutions.

One last thing, before I hang up:

Previously, I mentioned five attributes, I believed need to be assessed and considered in social network analysis: proximity, density, source, type, and direction. After speaking to and discussing the issue with Tantek Çelik and others, it has become clear, that I have indeed missed another important relationship attribute.

Frequency, the distance in time and repetitiveness of relationships.

The importance of frequency as a social designator becomes apparent, when seen in the context of relationship proximity and source. A casual encounter might result in a short term state of close proximity, yes may yield a low-density-high-distance link after some time.

That's it.

I really do. See, the new "virus" (or as I like to call it: "Windows User Reality Check") doesn't bother me. I don't run vulnerable software, the system that does the filtering has a large enough pipe to the 'net, to survive, and I won't, as a matter of principle, help anyone who got infected. Other than by loaning them a copy of Gentoo, or taking them to the Apple store, that is.

What pisses me off, really, are the stupid drones out there, who don't care enough for the 'net to turn off their fscking email-responders and virus-scanner warnings. Every admin, no matter how clueless, should be shot and buried if s/he hasn't read the advisories concerning this worm, yet. The worm spoofs email addresses. There is no bloody sense in sending a "your email has been quarantined" email to the From: or Reply-To:. Nobody here but us drones. These are not the virus-spewers, you are looking for. Move along.

Funnily enough, it was one of those self-proclaimed security companies that got hit first, and hard. Predictive analysis - my buttocks. Mailservers all over the web are keeling over from the triple whammy created by bounces, braindead virus-scanner mails, and the Worm.

To make this as clear as possible - two thirds of the traffic I am getting right now as a result of the worm, is not the worm. It's misconfigured mailsystems, stupid scanners, and the like. I've got a mind to start sending out 42.zip to make sure they shut the heck up and leave me alone. Idiots.

There's a worm out there. It's mildly problematic to the 'net, and heavily so to morons who still haven't learned their lesson, yet. And at one point, it'll be more than just a bit of a nuisance to SCO, but that's something that SCO could avert if they'd use the right software.

It's not my worm. I don't receive it, I don't spread it, and I sure as heck won't expose my users to it. Why do you insist on making my life miserable, then? Why do you keep sending me those bounces and anti-virus warnings. I said it above, and I'll say it again - every mailsystem admin, who hasn't tuned his bounce-management, yet, and who hasn't turned off anti-virus emails, be it because s/he's too stupid, too lazy, or too uninformed, to do it, should be bludgeoned to death with his own MCSE manual.

Leave me alone. I'm cranky. Update: So are others. The whole business of SPAM bounces seems to piss off a lot of people. Now, here's a job for all you Info Designers (looking down on poor old Sociologists like me for not grasping the 'net): Design me a network to automatically expose and shame the bastards that a) perpetuate the worm, and b) don't manage their bounces and anti-spam software.

28 Jan 2004 (updated 28 Jan 2004 at 21:04 UTC) »

The recent launch of Orkut.com, and the flurry of sign-ups, partially powered by its ``exclusive'' model of invitation based membership, has brought discussions about ``social networks'' and sites like Friendster, Tribe, and LinkedIn back into the spotlight of discussions.

Social networking isn't new. It is, in fact, as old as institutions and organizations are. Not just since the fundamental writings by Sociologists such as Coleman in 1964 have groups and circles attempted to harness the social capital inherent in structures, using tools to rate and evaluate individuals within a social grouping, and to facilitate communications amongst the members.

The oldest club in Europe, an exclusive French society of dove breeders, used social networking tools since the late 17th century to connect its members via a handwritten newsletter, circulating from member to member, and being amended along the way. A special trust metric had been established, which allowed each breeder to rate his peers, a process in which each vote carried weight based on the casters own ratings. In addition to the mailing, which took roughly one year to travel each of the members, shortcut routes were established, usually between counties, through which smaller groups could reach other groups. To create the shortcuts, each breeder was required to name at least two ``sponsors'' and four breeders he sponsored. Communications between unlinked individuals had to be established by finding a connection via ones own sponsor. Sponsors could, similarly, only communicate with their sponsors or sponsored individuals, making the initial contact a matter of knowing and being known. Once an initial contact was established, the following newsletter circulation was amended to reflect the newly linked breeders, who now were free to communicate and refer directly.

Acceptance of communications of bird purchases and sales based almost entirely on the ratings found inside the newsletter and contacts initiated by sponsors.

If this sounds even vaguely familiar, it does so, because it is reflected, in part, by today's ``social networking'' software.

It hasn't changed much. What did change, are the tools. And their names. And the hubris surrounding them. While most of the hurdles have fallen, including the sometimes mind-numbing wait for another circulation of the newsletter, and initiation has become much easier, the same basic ideas are still at work.

Even the pranksters, fakesters, and bogus friendship links aren't new. The Count of Villechy, in 1889, was expelled from the club for posing as two breeders in an attempt to boost his ranking. The attempt failed due to the elaborate trust metric (which is closely related to the metric used at Advogato [and was calculated by hand, no less]), and because of his estranged mistress' relationship to another, influential, club member.

Social networking is not "happening".

True, in a way, it is, and has been, ever since man decided that being in groups is a good idea. Social networking is shaping its forms and tools, based on the simple method of trial and error. If it works, it'll stick around, if it doesn't, it won't. It's just not "happening" in the "in" sense of the word.

The new meme on the block are social networks in software. Because 'networking' sounds so wonderfully technical, its original meaning (predating even the most rudimentary computers and data-networks by a few decades) has slowly given way to the new, leaving discussions about "social networking" with the task to untangle and uniquely address either one.

"Social capital accumulates through social networks and trust, and the norms of mutual reciprocity that these relationships foster." - Coleman, Puntnam 1988. → Today's "social networking" technology, the attempt to replicate and visualize social ties in HTML, XML, or graphical means, is a toy - at best. In its current application, it creates a user-base in which individuals are more interested in creating individual data, not social data. Once the emphasis is based on the size of a social interaction, not its quality, ties rot and become meaningless. Such a design also gives way to appeasement approaches (reciprocal linking, solicitation of links by way of creating meaningless ties, or linking individuals in an attempt to enter a specific social structure, not as a means to represent a preexisting relationship).

To reverse this - the infant social networking technology today is widely understood as a means to the end of creating social ties and thereby capital, not as a tool to effectively display such connections. This approach creates vast networks of faux relationships with little to no bearing in real life, interspersed with accurate or semi-accurate reflections of pre-existing fabrics. Unless the social networking tool provides ways to differentiate between either relationship, its usability is low.

"Trust", the basis of every social network, relies of effective control mechanism, be they employed through peer review or doctrine. Social capital becomes worthless, and in fact devalues the attached Human capital, if its origins are subject to doubt. → Current social network tools are vulnerable to attacks and easily infiltrated with faux or outdated information. An emphasis on "positive" relationships completely ignores the negative sides of interaction and leaves an interpretative void, unable to properly describe either function or conflict based interactions.

Social capital created and sustained by social networks has meaning only in its most extensive form. Only then, if the foundation and terminology of any valuation is know, and only if the source is identified and enjoys trust → Technology based social networking tools are "sound-bite" based ("In my bedroom, you will find..."). Unless additional steps are taken, usually outside the tools, one is left with imagination and reliance on unverified information to form a working impression of peers.

Social Networking software does not create anything "new". It is an attempt to express existing relationships. Expression is only as useful as its interpretive capabilities and accuracy. → Social structure descriptions such as FOAF, XFN, or the ones used by Friendster-type websites, are generic and unable to express an individual's standing within his or her own social circle. FOAF additionally suffers from technology-centric design, lack of interpreters, and useable levels of saturation. XFN does not claim to be an accurate reflection of social interaction, but has the potential to become one, which is why it has been listed here.

gilbou wrote me an email, telling me I'd shamefully neglected my Advogato diary, and he's right. I've moved most of my public online presence to my own website, which is less a reflection on Advogato's attraction (I still read it, I am subscribed to quite a few people's RSS feeds, and I draw information and food for thought from it on a mostly daily basis), but more on the fact, that I really like the possibility of desktop based microcontent publishing, which Kung-Log and family give me.

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