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Social Graph as Art

Michael Schwartz June 10, 2012

The past two weekends concluded the East Austin Studio Tour, an annual event where 300 local artists open their studios to visitors to show and discuss their art. “East” is a genius marketing idea, but most of the visitors to East are not buyers, but people looking for great ideas, entertainment and inspiration. If you spend time on the tour, you are struck by the energy, talent and effort exerted. Its fun, thought provoking, and after biking for two solid days, its even great exercise.

Art is a conduit for ideas. Can Art help get the message out about XDI? This was a question in the back of my mind as I toured some fifty studios over the course of four days.

One of the most challenging goals for enabling a more secure network is to convey the idea that people could benefit from something called a “personal graph.” Explaining the idea of a graph is not that hard. Everyone is familiar with the idea that you could create a graph of your connections on a social network, and that these graphs would probably be interconnected. The idea that you could secure your graph is a little more difficult to explain. The idea that the graph can be explained as a collection of subject-predicate-object triples using something called semantics is conversational suicide.

Walking through the Hope Gallery on Sunday, I was immediately struck by Jean-Pierre Verdijo’s work. He is a self-proclaimed muralist with a minimalist approach: Egyptian hieroglyphics meets abstract painting. I was impressed with his aesthetic sense, the ideas behind his work, and the ingenuity of his technique–who needs a canvas when you can stitch together bamboo floor mats?

It was hard not to get excited about the above painting. Its a great example of a graph that people can understand. But at the same time, its an amusing, ridiculous graph that makes you laugh. The technique of the painting takes a back seat to the message.

As Mr. Verdijo delivered the work to my office on Sixth Street, he mentioned that some of the Facebook staff were also intrigued by the painting. Hopefully, they will commission him to undertake more in the series–I’d like to see more Verdijo graphs than Jasper Johns flags. I hope its also a sign that Gluu is on the right track. Although my personal goal for starting Gluu, and for participating in the development of graph technology was not to “take down” Facebook, it has certainly occurred to me that if we built an open network based on security, it has that kind of potential. Recently Bill Boebel, formerly of Rackspace, asked me why Facebook would adopt standards for data federation. My answer was that they wouldn’t, but that the network that makes Facebook look small is the Internet, just as the Web made America Online look small. Through standards, social networking will achieve its real potential, not just the baby steps that we’ve currently taken to share our pictures and activity streams.

So Facebook, if you want the first Verdijo graph painting, its for sale: the price is $1 million. But if you want to adopt open standards that enable us to get control of their personal data: that would be priceless.

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Mike Schwartz

Mike has been an entrepreneur and identity specialist for more than two decades. He is the technical and business visionary behind Gluu. Mike is an application security expert and has been a featured speaker at RSA Conference, Gartner Catalyst, Cloud Identity Summity (now "Identiverse") and many other security conferences around the world.

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