An Introduction to Interest Networking

Posted by & filed under on September 17th, 2008.

Our interests are fleeting and immaterial, this mysterious stuff that’s locked away in our heads. Painstakingly, we collect our interests and transform them into words and documents. This transformation from interests into action is time-consuming and expensive, a decidedly “offline” and manual process.

What would happen if you could instead make your interests tangible and concrete? What if you could collect your interests as readily as you can search online? What if your interests could self-organize around your tasks while you’re off doing other things? Interest networking is the idea that’s driving our efforts at Primal to explore these big questions.

What is Interest Networking?

Interest networks provide a concrete representation of our interests-as-data. Encoded as data, our interests are accessible to the power of computing. Equally important, as structured data, interest networks may be used as inputs to software agents to automate much of the drudgery of our online experience.

Semantic representation. Semantic technologies are ideally suited to the task of interest networking. To borrow a phrase from Steven Pinker, semantic representations are the “language of thought”. Technically, an interest network is a type of semantic network. It represents thoughts as interconnected concepts. This lattice-like structure is how interests are represented as data and made concrete. Ideally, people will remain blissfully unaware of this deep structure as they interact with their interest networks.

Semantic synthesis. Semantic representation is only one aspect of an interest network. We don’t merely form our interests, we connect them. The word “interest” signifies a very elemental cognitive unit. We manipulate and compound these primitive structures to form ideas, arguments, and perspectives. Primal uses a semantic synthesis technology to fuse primitive concepts into these higher order constructs. Synthesis places interests in meaningful, task-oriented contexts.

Automation and tasking. This is where interests turn to action. With our interests collected and organized, we can put them to work: our interests may be collated with content and expressed as documents; they might traverse the Web to find related information; they might interface with social networks to connect like-minded individuals. Organized within semantic networks, interests have the power to direct computers on our behalf.

Benefits of Interest Networking

Ultimately, interest networking is intended to provide two main benefits. First, it will enhance our cognition. Our ability to store and recall information is limited. Interest networks can help by expanding the number of interests at our disposal and organizing them effectively. This isn’t a comment on our cognitive abilities, any more than a calculator is a comment on our math skills. It’s merely illustrative of the way computing complements thinking.

Secondly, interest networks will save time and effort. Consider how much time you spend collecting and organizing your thoughts. Whether you’re writing a paper for school, planning a trip, or researching a medical condition, interests are the necessary precursor to action. If we can migrate some of that arduous process online, we can put computers to the task of simplifying your online experience.

Perhaps the best way to summarize these benefits is by way of an analogy to social networks. In social networks, we put our identity online. Our digital identities live and interact in social networks even when our attention is elsewhere. Other people interact with us virtually while we’re off doing other things. And similarly, we can keep tabs on the people we care about, regardless of barriers of time or geography.

Such are the benefits of interest networking. Once we digitize our interests and put them online, our interests may interact with the world even when we’re not attending to them. They become both an independent embodiment of our interests as well as a powerful knowledge asset. Interest networks won’t displace thinking any more than social networks displace our socializing. But they will augment our ability to think and get stuff done.

Does this notion of interest networks seem fanciful? I expect for some it will. But think back: how many expected we’d push our socializing onto the network? Wasn’t Wikipedia an outrageous idea, as a collective representation of our knowledge? So while semantic technology provides for better search, better content management, and better data integration, it also provides an opportunity to make our interests tangible. In this, interest networking is simply another facet of ourselves – in our digital world.

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