Monday, 16 March 2009

Social networking and friends of friends

Like so many people, I’m on Facebook and Twitter, I’m on LinkedIn and Plaxo, and I belong to other networking communities and groups – like the new Eddolls group at However, I’ve only just come across FOAF files and the principle behind them – which is what I want to talk about today.

FOAF stands for Friend Of A Friend. It seems like a decentralized way of building a network. Rather than all joining Facebook – for example – and sharing information that way, we all create a FOAF file, put it on our Web site, and a distributed social network is created.

According to Wikipedia, FOAF is a descriptive vocabulary expressed using RDF (Resource Description Framework) and OWL (Web Ontology Language). Wikipedia goes on to suggest that computers may use these FOAF profiles to find, for example, all the people living in Europe, or to list all the people that both you and a friend of yours know. And the FOAF file does this by defining relationships between people. Each profile has a unique identifier (which could be a person’s e-mail addresses, a Jabber ID, or a URI of the homepage or weblog of the person), which is used when defining these relationships – again, thank you Wiki.

I went to and used their FOAF-a-matic to create my first FOAF file. That was a fairly painless procedure, and I produced a file that I could copy and paste. Here’s part of it:
<foaf:Person rdf:ID="me">
<foaf:name>Trevor Eddolls</foaf:name>
<foaf:homepage rdf:resource=""/>
<foaf:phone rdf:resource="tel:07901505609"/>
<foaf:workplaceHomepage rdf:resource=""/>
<foaf:workInfoHomepage rdf:resource="Write articles, edit journals, code Web pages, write and deliver training courses"/>

There followed the code for my friends, listing their names and e-mail addresses.

On the same site, they included a suggestion to use the HTML Link tag to point to FOAF descriptions:
<link rel="meta" type="application/rdf+xml" title="FOAF" href="foaf.rdf" />

According to Edd Dumbill, Editor and publisher,, back in June 2002 FOAF has the potential to become an important tool in managing communities. In addition to providing simple directory services, you could use information from FOAF in many ways. For example:

  • Augment e-mail filtering by prioritizing mail from trusted colleagues
  • Provide assistance to new entrants in a community
  • Locate people with interests similar to yours.

If you’re one of those people who think it’s not what you know that’s important, it’s who you know, then FOAF files are definitely for you.

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