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Monday, July 07, 2008

FriendRank

Slashdot It! Like most normal people, I was just having an interesting telephone conversation with a friend of mine (at 2am) about Google, Yahoo, Friendster, on-line marketplaces, approximate searches, and some secret stuff. Along the way I got to thinking about some of the fundamental similarities between Google (those who mapped the relationships among web pages and put them to use) and Friendster (those trying to map human relationships and put them to use). It occurred to me that Friendster needs FriendRank. Like Google's similarly named dead technology, PageRank, think of FriendRank as a way of providing a measure of influence among "friend nodes" in a social network. Imagine, for example, that Howard Dean wants to convince me to vote for him. He can either advertise in the hopes of reaching me, or he can be a savvy Internet sorta guy and try to use my social network (thru the Internet, of course) to do the job. At first you might think okay, that's easy. You just need to find the shortest path thru the network from Howard Dean to me. Then you'd figure out who along the way he needs to contact to try to get to me. Well, maybe. Social networks aren't that simple. They don't always use the shortest path--at least not in the "six degrees of Kevin Bacon" sense. Often times they use the most well lubricated path. Or the path that may result in reaching the greatest number of people who are "close" to me. Or those that have more influence with me in matters of politics, as opposed to something complete unrelated like cat grooming. You get the idea. Like PageRank, it's a multi-dimensional measure that could prove to be quite powerful if applied properly. It's like a routing problem with different dimensions involved. FriendRank would quantify that stuff. It's the algorithm used to find paths of social influence in various contexts, for various purposes, and in varying networks. Or maybe it's the value that algorithm produces for a given set of inputs. Either way, it's the idea that counts, right? Initially. Then comes the implementation. Now, if you go search for references to FriendRank, you'll see a few. So this term (and idea?) isn't exactly original. But some of the real possibilities just clicked for me about 10 minutes ago, and believe me, this example is the tip of the iceberg. Some of the discussion here is really, really missing the point. So try not to get sucked into that void. (Yes, I'm purposely not saying a lot of what I could yet. It needs time to percolate...) On a semi-related note, it's too bad there's no Friendster web service API I can use to get the data needed to prototype this, huh? That could be a lot of fun. Or really frustrating, as most hard problems are... :-) On the other hand, Friendster is not a necessary component in the equation. (Or Tribe.net, or LinkedIn, or...) It's just damned convenient since it's big and centralized. If I could get access to enough IM buddy lists, blogrolls, and so on, it'd be doable but much, much harder. Okay, bed time now. Get Daily Updates via Email Protect your computer with Windows Onecare

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