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Fear of a FOAF Planet - Acronyms and Activism on the Semantic Web
Dan Brickley, W3C
Edd Dumbill, Useful Information Company

Track: Social Software
Date: Wednesday, February 11
Time: 4:30pm - 5:15pm
Location: California Ballroom B

The Friend of a Friend (FOAF) project is creating a (Semantic) Web of machine-readable RDF/XML homepages describing people, the links between them, and the things they make and do. This session introduces FOAF, giving a lightning tour of its origins, goals, current status and possible futures.

What would happen (to privacy, to the media, to commerce) if search engines evolved into structured, aggregating databases? What would happen if machines could exchange, merge and reason about descriptions of people using standards-based, freely available tools? What should we do as these 'ifs' become 'whens'?

This session will outline the basics of FOAF, illustrated with discussion of ongoing work including FOAFMobile ("show me weblogs and profiles for people sitting nearby"), FOAFCorp ("Reveal the hidden structure of contemporary capitalism! Build a better corporate intranet!"), as well as the issues arising from the convergence of social networking, activism and Indy media concerns ("I'd like to talk to a FOAF who has been to Iraq...").

FOAF has many possible futures: utopian, dystopian, and the spaces in between. Modest technologies can have unexpected consequences. As a simple technology designed to encourage coincidence, FOAF opens up many possibilities. Moving towards mainstream use, we must balance wide-eyed optimism with sober assessments of possible unwelcome futures. FOAF is both a driver for change, and a readily accessible tool for understanding, adapting to and participating in this changed world. While FOAF is at heart a tool for describing and modeling our world, the Semantic Web is a tool for changing it.

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