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April 02, 2008

Findability in the (un)Social Directory

If you don’t want to be found, you should have the right to remain a hermit. I can’t bring myself to pay Verizon several dollars a month to take me OUT of its 411 and white pages but I don’t want to be there, even though – or especially because – the number they list is attached to the alarm system and neither rings in the house nor has voice mail.

Even in the relative privacy of social networks, most of us do leave ways to find us open. The key distinction is that finding us doesn’t mean reaching us. For example, if you’ve registered for Facebook, even people who aren’t your certified friends can find you. They can ask permission to be your friends; they can try to communicate with you. But you don’t have to respond to these requests or accept communication from them.

Similarly someone can find you on Skype if they make a few lucky guesses or know your email address – but they can’t see your online status or complete a call to you without your permission. Some people may want to remain truly anonymous, visible only to those to whom they have explicitly given contact permission. Most people, I suspect, want to be findable enough so that a stranger or a long lost friend can ask permission to reach them - something I’d very much welcome your comments on.

Assuming that you do want to be findable, then it makes little sense that a seeker have to wander through multiple walled gardens looking for you. Are you on Skype? Facebook? MySpace? Are you a friend of a friend?

The (un)social directory we are working on at FWD will span social networks in an attempt to find you using only that information that you have already made public through those social networks. If someone does find you through us, all he will be able to do is ask your permission to contact you. You can, of course, say no or ignore the request. You can also tell us not to forward anymore requests from this individual or from anyone. If she is someone you want to hear from, you can specify how she is allowed to reach you – text, voicemail, voice on your landline or cellphone etc.

As we (with your permission) know more about your social graph, we’ll also be able to tell you how many contacts you and this person have in common across a variety of social networks and who those mutual contacts are.

At the moment, this is vaporware not yet implemented in software. Consider this post a request for comments.

This thinking about findability owes much to old friend and one time competitor Jacob Ner-David, cofounder of Delta Three and now, among many other things, the Managing Partner of Jerusalem Capital.

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