Social Graph visibility akin to pain reflex

In a session at our “Social Graph Foo Camp” discussing yesterday’s announcement of Google’s Social Graph API, one of the debates is about the danger that the API (and the boost it gives to XFN) will definitively end “security by obscurity” regarding people and their relationships, as well as opening up the social graph to “rel=me” spammers. The counter-argument is that all this data is available anyway, and that by making it more visible, we raise people’s awareness and ultimately their behavior. I’m in the latter camp. It’s a lot like the evolutionary value of pain. Search creates feedback loops that allow us to learn from and modify our behavior. A false sense of security helps bad actors more than tools that make information more visible.

One of my tests for whether a Web 2.0 innovation is “good”, despite the potential for abuse, is whether it makes us smarter. We’re building new synapses in the global brain. Increasing sophistication in the amount of information that flows along links is a good thing. The net is a learning network, not just a static artifact.

That being said, understanding how to limit various kinds of attacks and to make the system more robust is always a good idea. So there’s some good debate going on here.

But even here, analogies to living things are relevant. We get sick. We develop antibodies and then we recover. Or we die. The net is getting to the level of complexity where we need to approach it as a living thing rather than an engineered object. While we can make better or worse design decisions, we’re not going to capture every eventuality, and as a result, it’s more important to be able to respond quickly than it is to be totally right out of the gate.

P.S. For those of you who can’t be here, Dave McClure reminds me that our upcoming Graphing Social Patterns conference (which Dave created last year) will continue many of these same discussions.