timothy falconer's semantic weblog
Big Fractal Tangle

foaf runs amok

To prep for my upcoming talk with Dan Brickley, father of FOAF, I figured I’d indulge myself in some wild and irreverant conjecture before hunkering down to a more concise and clear FOAF Tangle Yarn.

Imagine someone casts a spell, and we all woke up tomorrow without fear of universal IDs. Let’s say Dan bought the domain “humanity.org” and established a worldwide FOAF repository. To make this really wacky, let’s say someone invented a cheap way to determine a unique hash ID from our personal genetic code. I can see it now: I walk into my local pharmacy, drop a few quarters into the DNA reader, spit on a slip of paper and slip it in the machine, then out pops a printout of my unique dnaChecksum.

I run right home with it and create an account at “humanity.org”, where I answer a few questions and it creates and registers my FOAF resource, complete with a brand new dnaChecksum-related PGP key (we’ll assume this is an SSL connection).

So now that I’m “somebody”, I start browsing humanity.org. “Hey, this is just like Buddy Lists,” I think as I find friends and link them to my new record. Over time, others link to my record, adding properties of their own to my FOAF representation, such as “I really trust this guy” and “don’t ever date this loser.”

My dnaChecksum becomes very handy. I sign my email with it (the new vcard). I create accounts with it. It’s all very safe because of my PGP password, which I change every three hours just to be sure. Over time, Dan’s website becomes the kinder, gentler, Passport system, free of Microsoft tyranny and IRS ickyness. Of course the load would become too great, so humanity.org would branch out, much like name registrars. There’d always be the central site, which would simply redirect your dnaChecksum request to the appropriate FOAF server.

People would extend FOAF willy-nilly, creating all sorts of Match.com ontologies, all rooted in the universal dnaChecksum. People would find themselves sneaking a stray hair of an intended into their purse, then bringing it to the pharmacy to determine if their blind date was really who he said he was. Nevermind the Gattaca implications. Our DNA readers would just give out the checksum.

After a while of course, the government would get into the act. Our dnaChecksum would reference our tax records, our driving records, our credit histories, our birth certificates. Eventually, this number would be used for everything: driver’s license, phone number, email, auto keyless entry, home alarm system, ATM/credit card. Nobody would be able to do naughty things though, because we’d protect ourselves with that ever-changing PGP password.

And in the end, after our funeral, the undertaker would submit our PGP revokation certificate to the humanity.org website. Our FOAF record would gain yet another property, perhaps its last:


Hey, you never know. All this could happen, right?

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