Friendster's Monster: the current flap over the vitality of identities nonhuman, fictional, hoaxed, and squelched on Friendster returns us to the posthuman concept. That is, more or less, the problem of living in a world including humans, nonhuman agents (AIs, robots, intelligent nonhuman organisms, etc.), and modified humans (hacked DNA, significantly altered body forms).
Friendster lets us play with a light version of that infoscape, to explore how we might experience it. So far, some of use love it, while others assert control over form. Clay Shirky at Social Software reminds us of the recent SF Weekly article on nonhuman Friendsters. The presence of these nonhuman entities (although all are powered by humans) made the experience richer for the merely self-presenting humans. Furthermore, as Corante reminds us, Ben Driscoe found nonhuman entities are more connective than human ones, which focuses on Friendster's putative point.
It turns out that many of the most well-connected Friendster hubs are not people. There are Friendster IDs created for a whole host of non-human entities, including cities (San Francisco has only 84 friends?), drugs (Ecstasy has a lot of friends.... Ketamine fewer) and body parts (Gay Penis is wildly popular).
Put another way, there are social affordances to this creation. Connecting more extensively with others is, after all, the point. So is more carefully presenting your identity for socializing - you can link to nonhuman or spoof identities to further detail your own. There's pranking fun in spoofing famous people or attractive concepts. And it's the mix of real and pretend, your own self and some conceptual identity, that makes it tick for users.
Ethan Kaplan helps us shift the ground somewhat, pointing out the ways our identities are defined informationally, by dataveillance and also generally footprinting. If Friendster's leaders stomp out the fakes, won't our profiles still be generating identity by data, beyond most of our conscious control?
The ontology as it exists here is based purely on databases, existence formed based not on anything as ethereal as expression or form, but instead a purely semiotic relationship of the signifier and the signified, where the signifier is the interface itself (in the form of a webpage) and the signified the 100 tables that form the content store. The referent is the only subjectivity that exists, as each participant is forced into the same semiotic framework.
Coincidentally, some interesting intellectual property issues crop up thereby.
Last year, Sandra Braman asked a deeper question in a First Monday article. How do we include decision-making nonhuman entities in our policymaking processes? Perhaps someone will write a profiled bot, put it in charge of a scale-free networked space, and see what happens.