Twitter Lists and the Semantic Web

Twitter List Screen Shot

Have you taken a look at what Twitter Lists you’re on lately?  It’s an interesting study in how we help the web understand itself through our actions and contributions to the great, seething tide of data online.

This is a great example of the evolution toward the idea of the Semantic Web proposed by Tim Berners-Lee (which he explains in his own words in the video below).

The web is resembling more and more a form of artificial intelligence, and we netizens are the amino acids that make up its DNA.  Through the information we post, the ways we categorize it, and the connections we make with each other (social media makes the maxim “you are who you know” ever more true) – we’re teaching the web to understand us (an idea beautifully illustrated by Dr. Michael Wesch in this now-classic YouTube vide0).

Just look at what one can glean from how people have categorized me by what I tweet:  public relations, social media, Grand Rapids, Michigan, great dane lover, professional, foursquare, education, GRCC, digital, West Michigan, college, advertising, design, video, search engine optimization (SEO), online reputation management (ORM), web, marketing, branding,  communication, Lost, ddm, PRSA 2009 conference, etc.  There are even value judgments: greatness, elite, superuser, conversationalist, greatness, smart, connected.  Even the use of language provides insight into me; I’m described in slang/jargon terms like “tweeple,” “twibes,”  “g-rap,” “journchat,” “pr 2.0,” – indicating that I likely fit into various subcultures.

What can we forecast from this phenomenon?  For starters, privacy will continue to change in ways that disrupt our cozy and long-held expectations.  I don’t control who lists me or how they list me (though right now I can make the lists I’m on private).

As with other areas of social media or your digital identity, there are really two responses we’re left with;

  1. Closed:  restrict the content about oneself online by zealously guarding personal information and the content one contributes to the web.
  2. Open:  contribute to the content about oneself online to have a hand in shaping one’s online identity.

Increasingly the closed approach is futile.

Even if one were totally abstinent from Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and the blogosphere – content will inevitably be contributed to the digital world without one’s consent.   Your friends, co-workers and neighbors will tweet about you, corporations will make the data they aggregate about you more web-accessible (whether it’s the purchases you make, the magazines you subscribe to, the traffic cam video of intersections you drive through – even the lab results of your doctor’s visits – unfortunately I don’t think medical records are immune to this unstoppable trend).

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