Tag Archives: Subject-Centric

Object-centric social networking?

A 2005 post by Jyri Engeström is titled: “Why some social network services work and others don’t — Or: the case for object-centered sociality”. Among the points made:

The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object.

The post cites as an example that Flickr turned pictures into objects of sociality. Point taken. Point questioned…

Is it the case that people go to Flickr to socialize around pictures, or is there something special about some pictures that attract social behaviors such as tagging and commenting?

I am inclined to spend time looking at pictures taken by friends, or pictures that are about things (read: subjects) of interest to me. I won’t go so far as to assert that behavior describes every visit to Flickr, but I will suggest that it seems far more likely that it is the subjects portrayed in the boundary objects that are pictures that bind and unite social interactions.

I am making a case for subject-centric social networking.

When we write a blog post about another blog post, we are not united by the blog (boundary object) itself; might have been an email, a journal article, whatever. It’s the subject of that blog post that counts, that provokes a response, a comment, a tag, a social gesture of one sort or another.

Subject-centric sociality, I believe, is an accurate way to think about social intercourse. There remains much more to say about that.

On further reflection on recent (2009) slides presented here, I’m not all that certain that Engeström’s object-centric assertion is necessarily missing the point I’m making, at least in some cases. Some of the point made in the slides could easily be interpreted as subject-centric.

Metaphors. Lots of them.

I like metaphors. Consider the Periodic Table of the Elements. I like to think of that as a metaphor for discovery. It embodies everything I know about pattern recognition, extrapolation, prediction, and discovery. We’ve come a long way since Aristotle’s four main elements: air, fire, earth and water. Quoting from Wikipedia:

Earlier attempts to list the elements to show the relationships between them (for example by Newlands) had usually involved putting them in order of atomic mass. Mendeleev’s key insight in devising the periodic table was to lay out the elements to illustrate recurring (“periodic”) chemical properties (even if this meant some of them were not in mass order), and to leave gaps for “missing” elements. Mendeleev used his table to predict the properties of these “missing elements”, and many of them were indeed discovered and fit the predictions well.

I’d like to think that my work, when coupled with other research, will tease out of the aether recognizable patterns beyond those we now understand.

Then, there’s the Knowledge Gardening metaphor, in which we think of our collective sensemaking with the many tools and artifacts of hypermedia discourse as tending a garden, cultivating wisdom, planting the seeds of knowledge, weeding out bad information, and so on. Many moons back, a friend Richard Merrill wrote a book Radical Agriculture in which he introduced, to me, the term rhyzosphere, which is the matrix surrounding roots that supports nutrient and water uptake; it is essentially the ecosystem below ground that supports plant life. Thinking long and hard about that, where “thinking long and hard” is defined as using everybody’s favorite search engine, I ended up on a veritable romp through Wikipedia. For now, I’ll just toss up some links and maybe a few quotes to serve as H’ordourves…

THE RHYZOSPHERE, BIOLOGY AND THE REGOLITH talks about biological aspects of the rhyzosphere.

Rhizome_(philosophy) is the “philosophical” entry at Wikipedia about a rhizome, in this case, talking about that concept as a metaphor. This is the link that kicks open a rather stimulating tour.

Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above the ground lasts only a single summer. Then it withers away an ephemeral apparition. When we think of the unending growth and decay of life and civilizations, we cannot escape the impression of absolute nullity. Yet I have never lost the sense of something that lives and endures beneath the eternal flux. What we see is blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains. (Carl Jung: Prologue from “Memories, Dreams, Reflections”)

And now the metaphor from that Wikipedia entry, one that opens a floodgate (to use another metaphor):

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari used the term “rhizome” to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in data representation and interpretation. In A Thousand Plateaus, they opposed it to an arborescent conception of knowledge, which worked with dualist categories and binary choices. A rhizome works with horizontal and trans-species connections, while an arborescent model works with vertical and linear connections. Their use of the “orchid and the wasp” was taken from the biological concept of mutualism, in which two different species interact together to form a multiplicity (i.e. a unity that is multiple in itself). Horizontal gene transfer would also be a good illustration.

A_Thousand_Plateaus follows from the previous Wikipedia quote as another Wikipedia entry:

A Thousand Plateaus (French: Mille Plateaux) (1980) is a book by the French philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari. It forms the second part of their Capitalism and Schizophrenia duo (the first part being Anti-Oedipus). This book is written as a series of “plateaus”, a concept derived from Gregory Bateson, each identified by a particular date and title. Each refers to a peculiar age or date in which the state described in each plateau had a central role in the world. The book reflects Deleuze and Guattari’s rejection of hierarchical (arborescent) organization in favor of less structured, “rhizomatic” growth. The nomadic war machine is opposed to the state apparatus. In the last plateau the noosphere is invoked.

That the last sentence in this quote mentions the noosphere, about which I have read in other journeys, I am beginning to feel comfortable on this journey. Funny how seeing things one thinks to be familiar enhances the experience when thematic vagabonding new concepts. At the bottom of the Rhizome_(philosophy) entry is a link to rhizome-theory-directory. It’s a directory of blog entries made by Jeff Vail, each of which appears worth entry on my next journey.

Meanwhile, and to exhaust this journey, there is a concept mentioned along the way: Mutualism , yet another Wikipedia entry.

A Mutualism is an interaction between individuals of two different species, where both individuals derive a fitness benefit, for example increased survivorship. Similar interactions within a species are known as co-operation. Mutualism may be classified in terms of the closeness of association, the closest being symbiosis, which is often confused with mutualism. One or both species involved in the interaction may be obligate, meaning they cannot survive in the short or long term without the other species. Though mutualism has historically received less attention than other interactions such as predation,[1] it is very important subject in ecology. Examples include cleaner fish, pollination and seed dispersal, gut flora and nitrogen fixation by fungi.

Just playing, I wonder what happens when we mutate that definition by substituting “world views” for “species”, at least for the first instance of “species”. My work with subject maps is animated by the need to find or invent ways to merge different world views. Co-operation occurs when authors of two different subject maps find ways to enhance their respective representations such that they can merge their maps where merging is indicated. Merging is always indicated when two different representations are about the same subject. This process is called subject-centric merging. I call it federation. In fact, the umbrella concept that animates my work is called cultural federation. Hmmm…cultural mutualism. I suppose I should be careful here and not mention that in public yet…