Education, Young People and the Social Graph

Having tuned in to the enormous buzz about the concept of an open, global, social graph, I've been pondering what the implications are for education and young people.

The reality is that some time pretty soon young people are going to be arriving in high school with well established online identities which support "single sign on" (SSO) across a wide range of web sites and services, and with portable graphs of their social connections. They already have the social graphs and identities - they just need the graphs to be liberated from the closed social networks within which they reside and for the identities to be unified to allow SSO.

Will we then provide them with a new, school-based online identity and expect them to be grateful? This will never work unless their school identity plays nicely with their real identity, by which I mean that they will be able to designate their school identity as belonging to their real identity, and will therefore be able to access their social graph from within the school identity.

Handing a young person an identity (username/password) which cannot connect to their existing identity or identities, and cannot therefore access their existing social graph will be exactly as useless to them in the future as it would be to hand them a computer with no Internet access today.

This delegation of identities is relatively easy with OpenID - I am http://robertjones.myopenid.com but I am also http://www.jonesieboy.co.uk/blog - with the latter url simply referring on to the root identity url.

It also strikes me that the doom-merchants are going to go absolutely ballistic! Imagine suggesting that young people might be putting their graphs of social connections online for all and sundry to view? The horror! Never mind the fact that almost all child abuse is perpetrated by family members or adult friends of the family [see Child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: executive summary (PDF, 67KB ], and never mind the fact that they are all doing so already in Bebo, MySpace and elsewhere. This wailing and gnashing of teeth will be a good sign that something genuinely as revolutionary as the Web is occuring.

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