YouAndYouAndYouTube: Viacom, Privacy and the Social Graph API

From Wired via Thomas Roessler:

Google will have to turn over every record of every video watched by YouTube users, including users’ names and IP addresses, to Viacom, which is suing Google for allowing clips of its copyright videos to appear on YouTube, a judge ruled Wednesday.

I hope nobody thought their behaviour on was a private matter between them and Google.

The Judge’s ruling (pdf) is interesting to read (ok, to skim). As the Wired article says,

The judge also turned Google’s own defense of its data retention policies — that IP addresses of computers aren’t personally revealing in and of themselves, against it to justify the log dump.

Here’s an excerpt. Note that there is also a claim that youtube account IDs aren’t personally identifying.

Defendants argue that the data should not be disclosed because of the users’ privacy concerns, saying that “Plaintiffs would likely be able to determine the viewing and video uploading habits of YouTube’s users based on the user’s login ID and the user’s IP address” .

But defendants cite no authority barring them from disclosing such information in civil discovery proceedings, and their privacy concerns are speculative.  Defendants do not refute that the “login ID is an anonymous pseudonym that users create for themselves when they sign up with YouTube” which without more “cannot identify specific individuals”, and Google has elsewhere stated:

“We . . . are strong supporters of the idea that data protection laws should apply to any data  that could identify you.  The reality is though that in most cases, an IP address without additional information cannot.” — Google Software Engineer Alma Whitten, Are IP addresses personal?, GOOGLE PUBLIC POLICY BLOG (Feb. 22, 2008)

So forget the IP address part for now.

Since early this year, Google have been operating an experimental service called the Social Graph API. From their own introduction to the technology:

With so many websites to join, users must decide where to invest significant time in adding their same connections over and over. For developers, this means it is difficult to build successful web applications that hinge upon a critical mass of users for content and interaction. With the Social Graph API, developers can now utilize public connections their users have already created in other web services. It makes information about public connections between people easily available and useful.

Only public data. The API returns web addresses of public pages and publicly declared connections between them. The API cannot access non-public information, such as private profile pages or websites accessible to a limited group of friends.

Google’s Social Graph API makes easier something that was already possible: using XFN and FOAF markup from the public Web to associate more personal information with YouTube accounts. This makes information that was already public increasingly accessible to automated processing. If I choose to link to my YouTube profile with the XFN markup rel=’me’ from another of my profiles,  those 8 characters are sufficient to bridge my allegedly anonymous YouTube ID with arbitrary other personal information. This is done in a machine-readable manner, one that Google has already demonstrated a planet-wide index for.

Here is the data returned by Google’s Social Graph API when asking for everything about my YouTube URL:

 "canonical_mapping": {
  "": ""
 "nodes": {
  "": {
   "attributes": {
    "url": "",
    "profile": "",
    "rss": ""
   "claimed_nodes": [
   "unverified_claiming_nodes": [
   "nodes_referenced": {
   "nodes_referenced_by": {
    "": {
     "types": [
    "": {
     "types": [
    "": {
     "types": [

You can see here that the SGAPI, built on top of Google’s Web crawl of public pages, has picked out the connection to my FriendFeed (see FOAF file) and MyBlogLog (see FOAF file) accounts, both of whom export XFN and FOAF descriptions of my relationship to this YouTube account, linking it up with various other sites and profiles I’m publicly associated with.

YouTube users who have linked their YouTube account URLs from other social Web sites (something sites like FriendFeed and MyBlogLog actively encourage), are no longer anonymous on YouTube. This is their choice. It can give them a mechanism for sharing ‘favourited’ videos with a wide circle of friends, without those friends needing logins on YouTube or other Google services. This clearly has business value for YouTube and similar ‘social video’ services, as well as for users and Social Web aggregators.

Given such a trend towards increased cross-site profile linkage, it is unfortunate to read that YouTube identifiers are being presented as essentially anonymous IDs: this is clearly not the case. If you know my YouTube ID ‘modanbri’ you can quite easily find out a lot more about me, and certainly enough to find out with strong probability my real world identity. As I say, this is my conscious choice as a YouTube user; had I wanted to be (more) anonymous, I would have behaved differently. To understand YouTube IDs as being anonymous accounts is to radically misunderstand the nature of the modern Web.

Although it wouldn’t protect against all analysis, I hope the user IDs are at least scrambled before being handed over to Viacom. This would make it harder for them to be used to look up other data via (amongst other things) Google’s own YouTube and Social Graph APIs.

Update: I should note also that the bridging of YouTube IDs with other profiles is one that is not solely under the control of the YouTube user. Friends, contacts, followers and fans on other sites can link to YouTube profiles freely; this can be enough to compromise an otherwise anonymous account. Increasingly, these links are machine-processable; a trend I’ve previously argued is (for better or worse) inevitable.

Furthermore, the hypertext and data environment around YouTube and the Social Web is rapidly evolving; the lookups and associations we’ll be able to make in 1-2 years will outstrip what is possible today. It only takes a single hyperlink to reveal the owner of a YouTube account name; many such links will be created in the months to come.

Beautiful plumage: Topic Maps Not Dead Yet

Echoing recent discussion of Semantic Web “Killer Apps”, an “are Topic Maps dead?” thread on the topicmaps mailing list. Signs of life offered include (‘Collaborative, semantic and democratic social bookmarking’, Topic Maps meet social networking; featured tag: ‘topic maps‘) and a longer-list from Are Gulbrandsen who suggests a predictable hype-cycle dropoff is occuring, as well as a migration of discussions from email into the blog world. For which, see the topicmaps planet aggregator, and through which I indirectly find Steve Pepper’s blog and an interesting post on how TMs relate to RDF, OWL and the Semantic Web (though I’d have hoped for some mention of SKOS too).

Are Gulbrandsen also cites NZETC (the New Zealand Electronic Tech Centre), winner of The Topic Maps Application of the year award at the Topic Maps 2008 conference; see Conal Tuohy’s presentation on Topic Maps for Cultural Heritage Collections (slides in PDF). On NZETC’s work: “It may not look that interesting to many people used to flashy web 2.0 sites, but to anybody who have been looking at library systems it’s a paradigm shift“.

Other Topic Map work highlighted: RAMline (Royal Academy of Music rewriting musical history). “A long-term research project into the mapping of three axes of musical time: the historical, the functional, and musical time itself.”; David Weinberger blogged about this work recently. Also MIPS / Institute for Bioinformatics and Systems Biology who “attempt to explain the complexity of life with Topic Maps” (see presentation from Volker Stümpflen (PDF); also a TMRA’07 talk).

Finally, pointers to opensource developer tools: Ruby Topic Maps and Wandora (Java/GPL), an extraction/mapping and publishing system which amongst other things can import RDF.

Topic Maps are clearly not dead, and the Web’s a richer environment because of this. They may not have set the world on fire but people are finding value in the specs and tools, while also exploring interop with RDF and other related technologies. My hunch is that we’ll continue to see a slow drift towards the use of RDF/OWL plus SKOS for apps that might otherwise have been addressed using TopicMaps, and a continued pragmatism from tool and app developers who see all these things as ways to solve problems, rather than as ends in themselves.

Just as with RDFa, GRDDL and Microformats, it is good and healthy for the Web community to be exploring multiple similar strands of activity. We’re smart enough to be able to flow data across these divides when needed, and having only a single technology stack is I think both intellectually limiting, socially impractical, and technologically short-sighted.

RDFa Basics video from Manu Sporny

Via Dave Beckett in #swig IRC,  Manu Sporny’s handy 10 minute overview of RDFa Basics (see also other versions, source materials).

Here’s a screen grab of the full FOAF example used. Note that the WG renamed ‘instanceof’ to ‘typeof’ recently.

FOAF example expressed in RDFa

For the video-averse, a full transcript is available. Here’s the full XHTML markup example from the above image:

<body xmlns:foaf="">
 <span about="#jane" typeof="foaf:Person"
       property="foaf:name">Jane McJanerson</span>
 <span about="#mac" typeof="foaf:Person"
       property="foaf:name">Mac McJanerson</span>
 <span about="#jane" rel="foaf:knows"
       resource="#mac">Jane is friends with Mac.</span>

OpenSocial schema extraction: via Javascript to RDF/OWL

OpenSocial’s API reference describes a number of classes (‘Person’, ‘Name’, ‘Email’, ‘Phone’, ‘Url’, ‘Organization’, ‘Address’, ‘Message’, ‘Activity’, ‘MediaItem’, ‘Activity’, …), each of which has various properties whose values are either strings, references to instances of other classes, or enumerations. I’d like to make them usable beyond the confines of OpenSocial, so I’m making an RDF/OWL version. OpenSocial’s schema is an attempt to provide an overarching model for much of present-day mainstream ‘social networking’ functionality, including dating, jobs etc. Such a broad effort is inevitably somewhat open-ended, and so may benefit from being linked to data from other complementary sources.

With a bit of help from the shindig-dev list, #opensocial IRC, and Kevin Brown and Kevin Marks, I’ve tracked down the source files used to represent OpenSocial’s data schemas: they’re in the opensocial-resources SVN repository on There is also a downstream copy in the Apache Shindig SVN repo (I’m not very clear on how versioning and evolution is managed between the two). They’re Javascript files, structured so that documentation can be generated via javadoc. The Shindig-PHP schema diagram I posted recently is a representation of this schema.

So – my RDF version. At the moment it is merely a list of classes and their properties (expressed using via rdfs:domain), written using RDFa/HTML. I don’t yet define rdfs:range for any of these, nor handle the enumerated values (opensocial.Enum.Smoker, opensocial.Enum.Drinker, opensocial.Enum.Gender, opensocial.Enum.LookingFor, opensocial.Enum.Presence) that are defined in enum.js.

The code is all in the FOAF SVN, and accessible via “svn co”. I’ve also taken the liberty of including a copy of the OpenSocial *.js files, and Mozilla’s Rhino Javascript interpreter js.jar in there too, for self-containedness.

The code in schemarama.js will simply generate an RDFA/XHTML page describing the schema. This can be checked using the W3C validator, or converted to RDF/XML with the pyRDFa service at W3C.

I’ve tested the output using the OwlSight/pellet service from Clark & Parsia, and with Protege 4. It’s basic but seems OK and a foundation to build from. Here’s a screenshot of the output loaded into Protege (which btw finds 10 classes and 99 properties).

An example view from protege, showing the class browser in one panel, and a few properties of Person in another.

OK so why might this be interesting?

  • Using OpenSocial-derrived vocabulary, OpenSocial-exported data in other contexts
    • databases (queryable via SPARQL)
    • mixed with FOAF
    • mixed with Microformats
    • published directly in RDFa/HTML
  • Mapping OpenSocial terms with other contact and social network schemas

This suggests some goals for continued exploration:

It should be possible to use “OpenSocial markup” in an ordinary homepage or blog (HTML or XHTML), drawing on any of the descriptive concepts they define, through using RDFa’s markup notation. As Mark Birbeck pointed out recently, RDFa is an empty vessel – it does not define any descriptive vocabulary. Instead, the RDF toolset offers an environment in which vocabulary from multiple independent sources can be mixed and merged quite freely. The hard work of the OpenSocial team in analysing social network schemas and finding commonalities, or of the Microformats scene in defining simple building-block vocabularies … these can hopefully be combined within a single environment.

Visual SPARQL query tools

Quick links – thinking about tools that allow graphical SPARQL query authoring…

OpenLink Virtuoso: InteractiveSparqlQueryBuilder (in HTML/CSS/.js). Pictured below; extensive documentation and screenshots linked from their main page.

…an ancestor of which was Damian Steer’s RDFAuthor tool for MacOSX, which could generate Squish (a SPARQL precursor) and query services over the ‘array of hashtables’ SOAP-for-rdf-query non spec that Libby Miller and I had implementations of. From the RDFAuthor tutorial:

The old Maryland BINPIQ SHOE knowledgebase query applet is the grandaddy of them all. Sadly I don’t have any screenshots and the applet itself seems to be coderotted. [...] Ah, but here I find an email I wrote about it 8 years ago(!), which has screenshots:

SemanticSoft from Moldova also have some visual SPARQL UI:

No real conclusion here. I just found myself looking around some of these links, and thought I’d share them. I’m sure there’s a lot more related work out there (eg. NIGHTLIGHT from folk at Southampton Uni), and that the rise of fancy HTML-based UIs and JSON for data access makes for an ever-more interesting environment for zero-install graphical query tools.

One thing I remember about the old Maryland applets: as their representational language became more expressive (moving from binary to n-ary), the graphical query UI became somewhat less intuitive. Now since SPARQL itself adds some concepts not in the underlying target language (ie. RDF doesn’t have named graphs, optionals etc), the ability to make a graphical query UI that exploits the “it’s just an RDF graph with bits labelled as missing” (per Guha’s original proposal) perhaps gets a bit strained. In particular, how might named graphs best be represented in visual editors?

Foundation Nation: new orgs for Infocards, Symbian

Via the [IP] list, I read that the Information Card Foundation has launched.

Information Cards are the new way to control your personal data and identity on the web.

The Information Card Foundation is a group of thoughtful designers, architects, and companies who want to make the digital world easier for you by building better products that help you get control of your personal information.

From their blog, where Charles Andres offers a historical account of where they fit in:

And by early 2007, four tribes in the newly discovered continent of user-centric identity had united under the banner of OpenID 2.0 and brought the liberating power of user-controlled identifiers to the digital identity pioneers. The OpenID community formed the OpenID Foundation to serve as a trustee for intellectual property and a host for community activity and by early 2008 had attracted Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, VeriSign, and IBM to join as corporate directors.

Inspired by these efforts, the growing Information Card community realized that to bring this metaphor to full fruition required taking the same step—coming together into a common organization that would unify our efforts to create an interoperable identity layer. From one perspective this could be looked at as completing the “third leg of the stool” of what is often called the Venn of Identity (SAML, OpenID, and Information Cards). But from another perspective, you can see it as one of the logical steps needed towards the cooperative convergence among identity systems and protocols that will be necessary to reach a ubiquitous Internet identity layer—the layer that completes the hat trick.

I’m curious to see what comes of this. There’s some big backing, and I’ve heard good things about Infocard from folks in the know. From an SemWebby perspective, this stuff just gives us another way to figure out the provenance of claim graphs representable in RDF, queryable in SPARQL. And presumably some more core schemas to play with…

Meanwhile in the mobile scene, a Symbian Foundation has been unveiled:

Industry leaders to unify the Symbian mobile platform and set it free
Foundation to be established to provide royalty-free open platform and accelerate innovation

The demand for converged mobile devices is accelerating. By 2010 we expect four billion people to have joined the global mobile conversation. For many of these people, their mobile will be their first Internet experience, not just their first camera, music player or phone.

Open software is the basic building block for delivering this future.

With this in mind, industry leaders are coming together to establish Symbian Foundation, to bring to life a shared vision and to create the most proven, open and complete mobile software platform – available for free. To achieve this, the foundation will unify Symbian, S60, UIQ and
MOAP(S) software to create an unparalleled open software platform for converged mobile devices, enabling the whole mobile ecosystem to accelerate innovation.

The foundation is expected to start operating during the first half of 2009. Membership of the foundation will be open to all organizations, for a low annual membership fee of US $1,500.

I’ll save my pennies for an iPhone. Everybody’s open nowadays, I guess that’s good…

Mashed remote contrib: BBC music genres meet (meets OAuth)

I’m not at the BBC’s 2008 hackday-like-event, Mashed. But here’s a quick hack based on the data the BBC audio and music team have made available. The data that caught my eye was “Genres for set of MusicBrainz Artists” based on editorial data entered for This is a simple file:

0039c7ae-e1a7-4a7d-9b49-0cbc716821a6    Rock and Indie
003abc43-e2bb-40e5-a080-3c4b9e56ea63    Classical
0053dbd9-bfbc-4e38-9f08-66a27d914c38    Classic Pop and Rock

It maps a MusicBrainz artist ID (increasingly the defacto open standard for identifying artists, at least in popular western music) to a simple genre label.

I haven’t yet found corresponding pages on the BBC music site for each of these genres.

Since expose my last 12 month’s most commonly played artists for all to mock, it is quite easy to cross-reference these sources to get a summary of my alleged musical interests.

A commandline ruby script online for now:

Airbag:mashed danbri$ ruby lastfm-genres.rb
Classic Pop and Rock: 13
Rock and Indie: 17
Hip Hop; RnB and Dance Hall: 1
World: 1
Dance and Electronica: 12

It’s a while since I wrote any code, clearly: this should at least be sorted and trimmed to the top 3 or so. We’d need to look at a few people’s profiles to figure out the best approach to summarising someone’s interests, and a little thought is needed for representing this in RDF/FOAF.

Now where I see OAuth fitting into this picture is the “what do we do next” step. OAuth potentially addresses a problem we’ve had in the FOAF scene, whereby FOAF generators and adaptors produce a chunk of markup, but there’s no easy/natural way to post this back into the Web. I’m hoping that blogs and hosting sites will allow external FOAF sources (like this script) to update/augment the FOAF descriptions we host in our existing Web sites and profiles. I sent some notes on this to the OAuth list (albeit to a deafening silence).

See also:  mashed / bbc genres ruby script

AllegroGraph RDFStore 3.0: Social Network Analysis

AllegroGraph 3.0 now comes with a Social Network Analysis component, amongst several other interesting features including improved geo support.

example diagram of people and relationships

By viewing interactions as connections a in graph, we can treat a multitude of different situations using the tools of Social Network Analysis (SNA). SNA lets us answer questions like:

    • How closely connected are any two individuals?
    • What are the core groups or clusters within the data?
    • How important is this person (or company) to the flow of information?
    • How likely is it that this person and that person know one another?

The field is full of rich mathematical techniques and powerful algorithms. AllegroGraph’s SNA toolkit includes an array of search methods, tools for measuring centrality and importance, and the building blocks for creating more specialized measures. These tools can be used with any “network” data set whether its connections between companies and directors, predator/prey food webs, chemical interactions, or links between web sites.

Yahoo: RDF and the Monkey

From the Yahoo developer network blog,

Besides the existing support for microformats, we have already shared our plans for supporting other standards for embedding metadata into HTML. Today we are announcing the availability of eRDF metadata for SearchMonkey applications, which will soon be followed by support for RDFa. SearchMonkey applications can make direct use of the eRDF data by choosing the data source, while RDFa data will appear under Nothing changes in the way applications are created: as SearchMonkey applications have already been built on a triple-based model, the same applications can work on both microformat, eRDF or RDFa data.

Very cool. Good news for microformats, good news for RDF. Now to find which spam-trap my SearchMonkey account info got lost in…