Tuesday Jan 05, 2010

MISC 2010 and the Internet of Subjects

The International Conference on Mobility, Individualisation, Socialisation and Connectivity (MISC 2010) will be taking place in London from Jan 20 to 23 under the rallying cry "Personal Data It's Ours!". It will cover a very large number of topics in the space of Identity, the Social Web, Privacy and Data Ownership, (see the Agenda). I will be presenting on the developments of the Secure Social Web with foaf+ssl.

The conference will also be the launch pad for the Internet of Subjects foundation, whose manifesto starts with the following lines (full version)

The place digital technologies have now dwelled in our lives is leading to an ever-increasing flow of personal data circulating over the Internet. The current difficulties experienced in personal data management, like trust and privacy, are the revealing symptoms of a growing contradiction between an architecture that was primarily designed to manage documents, with the growing expectations of individuals of a more person-centric web. This contradiction will not be resolved by adding a simple patch to the current architecture; a second order change, similar to Copernican revolution, is required to move from a document-centric to a p erson-centric Internet, and create the conditions for a more balanced and mature relationship between individuals and organisations.

I completely sympathise with the feeling expressed by this message. But just as the Copernican revolution did not require an actual change in the movement of the planets - they have been turning around the Sun quite happily for billions of years - but 'only' required a change in how the humanity thought about the movement of the planets, so Web architecture as it currently stands, is perfectly adequate for an Internet of Subjects. It has been designed like that right from the beginning. Tim Berners Lee in his 1994 Plenary at the First International World Wide Web Conference, presented a Paper "W3 future directions" where he showed how from the flat world of documents as shown here

one could move to a world of objects described by those documents as shown here

This is what led to the development of the semantic web, and to technologies such as foaf that since 2000 have allowed us to build distributed Social Networks, and foaf+ssl that are allowing us now to secure them. Using the semantic web then to describe the authors of the documents and hence turn the web of objects into a web of subjects making statements about objects, does not require much technological innovation: it's built into the semweb architecture.

Still to someone who does not know this - the conference as well as the Manifesto are aimed at people who don't - their feeling will be that something is fundamentally wrong with web architecture. This is indeed the feeling the pre Copernican astronomers would have had as their models became more and more complicated to accommodate the always increasing amount of information they gathered about the stars. What should have been simple and beautiful, revealing the mind of God, must have seemed more and more confusing. Until one day, the way the world looked, suddenly changed...

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