Stalking the social revolution

After Carson’s “Future of web apps” I and a few friends were sat in a West London pub musing on all things web 2.0 when one (he shall remain nameless) commented on how he used certain social tools (like del.icio.us, flickr and so on) to keep track of other people’s habits. Interestingly (he’s a sales focused kind of guy) many of these people were not friends, but business contacts. His knowledge of one of his customers’ mountain biking hobby (what equipment he’d bought on ebay, which components he had bookmarked at del.icio.us, which trips he had posted photos of on Flickr) was horrifying.

This got me to thinking about how much we actually publish about ourselves online, deliberately or not. I use the username ‘offmessage’ wherever I can. You can see what I’ve just been listening to here, see my ebay habits here and here (ebay account required for the second one), view my current areas of research here and if I actually used flickr you could see my photos here. I’m not a great social networking application user, but already that’s probably more about me than I’m 100% comfortable with if I think about it.

In a fit of perversion this led me to start designing obse.quio.us, the ultimate sales tool. Farm news feeds, blog posts, ebay feedback, last.fm and a whole host of other services to build a clear picture of your current sales targets or key account representatives. Which sport do they like and who do they support (and how are they doing)? Which albums have they just bought, or listen to all the time? Flickr produces a serious amount of information about family and friends and time outside work. All of this can be pieced together in such a way as to make your small talk perfect, regardless of your own personal interests.

I’d like to point out that I never had any intention of building this. Nor do I like it as an idea. It was my intention to point out exactly how much we publish without thinking about it. What’s surprised me is the reaction. While a few have recoiled in horror as I expected them to, a fair few have thought it a fine idea, and a few more have asked me when I will be launching it.

It seems I’m not the only person who’s seen the benefits of the social revolution, either. While I knew that the UK Honeynet guys were interested in using similar approaches in profiling attackers through IRC and blogs, it seems that the NSA is having very similar ideas too. And then of course there’s using this sort of thing for playing with Paul Daniels’ mind.