SocialPhysics: trying to create open source solutions to a siloized world

Harvard’s Berkman Center has recently launched SocialPhysics, a program with two main goals:

– Create a robust, multi-disciplinary, multi-constituency community for addressing, vetting and conducting experiments in such issues as privacy, authentication, reputation, transparency, trust building and information exchange.

Translation: a community (theoretically open to anyone, but in practice no doubt highly selective) of thoughtful people who can publicly discuss some of the relevant issues around social software.

– Develop a reusable, open source software framework based on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform that provides core services including: identity management, social network data models, authentication management, encryption, and privacy controls. On top of this framework we are also developing a demo app that provides identity management and social networking functions, tools to create peer-to-peer identity sharing and facilities to support communities of interest around emerging topics.

Translation: try to preserve some of the value created by systems such as LinkedIn, while letting the public (instead of individual companies) capture more of the consumer surplus. Hopefully they’ll build this around standards popularized by the blog world such as RSS, which already enable many of the features mentioned above and are already widely accepted.

Clay Shirky writes about SocialPhysics:

I’m generally skeptical of identity management — it has the same hollow ring as knowledge management — but since the focus here is on trust building, rather than simple transactions that treat trust as a binary condition or simple threshold, this will be worth watching.