Sergio Fernández and Iván Frade lately started a really interesting experience called Futil. This is a small computer program that got Sergio’s FOAF profile as seed person to discover new people from its relations (the friend of a friend of a friend, etc). The experience is to discover how much people you can find only starting from people you know. So far, Sergio’s Futil program found about 600 000 people. I guess that it should discover around 2 500 000 people before it finishes.
The experience is quite interesting in many ways. It gives some insight on how people are connected together, and even more important in today’s web, how communities of users are interacting with the Web.
The graph bellows show how Futil is discovering these profiles. The Y-axis represent the number of pool of people it has to get from the Web and the X-axis is number of profiles it got so far.
The first 50 000 people Futil found were coming from different places on the web. It could be a personal web page, the web page of an organization, etc. Then, eventually, Futil found a couple of links to people belonging to an online community called Tribe. People of that community only link to other people of the same community. What is interesting is that as soon as Futil started to crawl a couple of people of that community, it eventually found all the 200 000 people belonging to that community. Now the same thing is currently happening with another community, much bigger, called Livejournal, with about 2 million of users.
Why Futil only crawled people from the same community? The answer is easy: because these communities are closed. They don’t interact with the rest of the Web. So one user can only link to other community users.
How to open a community and let its users interact with other users, of other online communities?
A first step would be to let people describing their relationship with other people outside of their community.
One example of such an online community is Talk Digger. This system let its users importing (and synching) their FOAF profile from another location on the Web. It also let its users defining their relationship with other people outside of the community. By example, a user can say that he knows the people X and Y on Talk Digger; but it can also specifies that he knows a person Z from outside of the community, or from another online community.
In fact, if other online communities would add such a feature to their system, inter-communities communications and relationships could then be possible.
Why online communities system should open themselves?
Why a user will use an online community and not the other? It depends; I would say that it principally depends on: the topic(s) of the community, the people he knows in that community, and the user interface of that community (after all, one interface don’t work for everybody).
So, why online communities shouldn’t let their users interacting with other online communities users?
I think it is an error caused by the fear of loosing users and it explains why Futil behaved that way: because current online communities doesn’t let its users interacting with people from outside of the community.
Futil is pinging Pingthesemanticweb.com as well
Well, each time Futil discover a new FOAF profile it pings Pingthesemanticweb.com. So far it pinged about 300 000 new FOAF profiles. It is a good example of how this semantic web pinging service can be used.
Now, everybody has access to these new FOAF files. The best thing would be that such online communities (like Tribe.net and Livejournal.com) would ping the service each time there is a new user, or each time a user update its profile. But in the mean time, independent crawlers such as Futil do the job very well.
The thing I wish now is that future online communities start to let their users interacting with users from other communities. A good start in that direction would be to let them describing their relationship not only with people of the same community, but also with people from outside of the community. By then, meta-communities should start to emerge.