FOAF: Friend of a Friend


While I was at the O'Reilly ET Conference, Jo Walsh mentioned FOAF, or Friend of a Friend, in her talk. FOAF is a project of the RDFWeb initiative. According to their website: "RDFWeb is an experimental linked information system, exploring some interconnected applications of the Semantic Web." I was curious and so, I spent some time looking at it. Here's what I found:

  • FOAF proper is specifically an RDF format for describing people and the links between then. So for example, you can specify your name, email address, physical location, etc. and people you know or meet by linking to their FOAF file.
  • The introduction to FOAF talks about why you might want to do this. Theoretically, if we all had FOAF files, then we could ask questions like "show me the web pages and email addresses of the people I met at ETCon" even though all I have is their FOAF link.
  • Edd Dumbill wrote a good article on it on IBM Developer Works. The article explains the format and the possible usages.
  • One of the offshoots of FOAF that seems to be generating some excitement (at least among the FOAF crowd is codepiction, a technique for using meta-data to catalog photographs that show two or more people together. The meta-data is then used to discover connectedness between people based on codepiction.
  • There is a tool called FOAF-a-matic for creating a FOAF file from a web form. It will get you started, but isn't intended for maintaining FOAF files.
  • There are some tools for viewing someone's FOAF file and then exploring the community of people that they know. Here is what it says about my FOAF file. I added Sam Ruby and Mark Pilgrim to my "knows" list to make it interesting.

So, what do I think of all this? On one hand, I think its a neat idea that would be fun to play around with. On the other hand, I have some sympathy for Dave's argument that the semantic web requires people to change how they write for the Web to be effective. This is much the same. There is one crucial difference: since its like VCARD on steroids, I could theoretically manage my FOAF connections as part of my address book and use an address book like tool to explore FOAF connections. There's some critical mass that seems to be missing. Right now, you can create a FOAF file, but you can do much with it. Maybe a FOAF module for Chandler as its basic contact manager would do the trick.