Who 2.0: Tagging People in the Real World

In Uncategorized on June 21, 2006 at 11:15 pm


Related Topic: Self-Aware e-Society

This post has been updated to include the concept of Standardized Tags.


The Idea

This post presents an ubiquitous, passive method for tagging people in the real world with attributes that describe them (e.g. good, fun, smart, interesting, psycho, unreliable, untrustworthy, etc.. you get the idea) such that people can see how someone they’ve just met has been defined (or categorized) by others.

People will be able to make better choices about whom to associate with and whom to trust, in a real world setting. It allows the Web 2.0 “social networking” paradigm, which is currently confined to the Web, to be experienced in the real world.

From Conception to Production

The “Who 2.0” idea was suggested by a fellow WordPress blogger who goes by “farlane” in his comment to the “Hunter Gatherer” post, which he made about 3 hours ago [note that this post has been updated since.] The idea is also sort of related to what I had previously wrote in a post on “GWorld (beta)” regarding how objects (or people) within a virtual world may be tracked and identified with the virtual equivalent of the RFID tag. Links to those posts, farlane’s comment and farlane’s “about” page are provided at the end of this post.

The Design

It’s really very simple.

Today, we have camera phones that can take photos with 8 mega pixel resolution. Such camera phones can produce a pretty detailed image of people’s faces (8 mega pixels actually produce a large-sized image with more than enough details.) Simply add facial recognition software which exists today and you have your tagging mechanism. Take a shot of someone’s face, add their name (optional) and tag them with words that describe them. Click send and the image and tags will be sent to a central database. When you you meet someone and you want to find out how others think of them simply take a shot of their face and send that as a query to the central database. The answer you get back would show each word/tag that has been used to define that person and how many people used each given tag. For example, 400 people think I’m funny and fun to be around while 3 think I’m a mutant ninja turtle. Who do you trust? Obviously, you can safely conclude based on the statistics that I’m not a turtle. The tag statistics in this context will help you make a good bet about the character and personality of someone you’ve just met, but it’s you (not the system) that makes the bet.

For example, if you look up my name (or look up my face) with your phone and find out that 10 people thought I was so very boring then you probably wouldn’t want to hang out with me. However, if at the same time 1000 thought I was a fun lovin’ guy then you may want to take your chances and hang out with me. But what you can do to people people can do to you, so I can look up your face or name and hedge my bet based on the tags I get back and the associated tag statistics.

This reminds me of that famous quote by Abraham Lincoln: “You can fool all of the people some of the time, and you can even fool some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” So while I may not be fun all of the time (e.g. 1%) I’m still fun most of the time (or 99%), so then you can make a safe bet that I’m fun to hang out with. But that’s just a simple example.

It gets more complicated as people describe the 20 or more possible personality and character attributes, some using different words than others. However, it cannot be any worse than following a link on del.icio.us or digg that has been tagged as funny by 1000 other people.

Standardized Tags

Several readers complained that tags are relative, not absolute, so they should not be used to judge people in an absolute way. Well, I never said the system should be used as an absolute measure of people’s personality and character, but since it could be potentially misused in that way, I figured that the tags, which form the basis of the system, should reflect the difference between people’s judgment and what one could statistically define as the “standard” judgment.

Instead of using regular tags the system would allow users to use weighed tags. For example, what I think is funny may be boring to 70% of the people. So my “funny” tag should count less than another person’s “funny” tag if that person has a much more mainstream humor. To teach that to the system, users would go through an online feedback test where random scenes are shown and each user has to tell the system what he/she think of each scene by picking one of the available tags that describe the scene. Once that test has been done with a large enough population of users, those who come out in the middle of the curve for a given tag, e.g. funny, would have the most weight assigned to their use of that tag to describe others (i.e. 1.0) and those on either side of the curve (within the reference range) will have the least weight assigned to their use of that tag to describe others (i.e. 0.0), with each user in between (on both sides of the curve) having his/her use of that tag assigned a weight that is in between the maximum weight and the minimum weight depending on how far they are from the median. This way when 1000 people think that someone is funny the system will add the total weight of their “funny” tags so that if their sense of humor (plural) is tightly distributed around the median then the total score for their combined judgment will be closer to 1000 but if they mostly have odd humor the total score would be much less, e.g. 100. This way if you discover that someone you’ve just met has been described with a “funny” score of 1000 then you can think of it as if 1000 people with “standard” judgment thought that person was funny. In other words, the total score would be given in units of standard judgment.

The statistical technique described here is very simple and it can be more elaborate, e.g. having additional user-behavior-based weighing factors.

A system like the one suggested here will allow us to make good choices (about whom we pick as our friends or business partners) quickly and reliably.

This could lead to a safer, happier and more productive society (Well, at least in theory.)


  1. About farlane (the reader who suggested the idea.)
  2. Farlane’s comment where this idea was suggested.
  3. The “Hunter Gatherer” post that lured farlane to this blog.
  4. The post where tagging of objects (and people) in the [virtual] world was mentioned.


Web 2.0, Web 2.0, Where 2.0, Where 2.0, social networking, Trends, Who 2.0, facial recognition, tagging, Startup

  1. this idea simply seems terrbile to me… Although it is perfectly describe, and the theory behind it is pretty ok, i think it can make more harm than good…

    that means employers could use it to review candidates (allowing for racial or facial discrimination) and to sort them out. What if only two persons voted my face with pretty nasty tags? like just because the day they met me I wasn’t in such a good mood? “well that’s only two persons” I hear you say “but it is still 100% of opinions” I here other poeple say…

    And what about my right to image? What if i don’t wish to appear on such a system? wil you email each new profile entered to ask if they accept to be published? And since when majority is always right? and aren’t depressed of unfunny of even nasty people allowed to have friends?

    Please people, stop trying to automate everything, the best (and only) way to make up your mind on people is by metting them and having “real life” interraction with them. I don’t want to be a set of categories nor a score on the web, “I am not a number, I am a free man…” Well, at least I try to be.

  2. Manu,

    Great comments.

    While I put a lot of good will in explaining the technical and business aspects of trends and strategies that I care about, I leave it up to the readers, including those who may be inclined to build this idea, to make their own judgment about the ethical/moral aspects. It would be morally presumptuous of me to make that judgment for them.

    There are good and bad uses to any technology or innovation.


  3. Well, I can see the use of being able to retrieve information from such a system. But why would I take the trouble to enter information _into_ the system? What’s in it for me? At least del.icio.us allows me to save bookmarks at one place, and flickr allows me to share photos. But I still cannot see why would I want to enter information into _this_ database?

  4. For the same reason you've just shared an opinion with the rest of us about an idea that you've just run into.

    You would find yourself using it to share an opinion with the rest of us about a person you've just met.

    The concept is the same, which is, namely, the desire to share (an opinion, photo, video etc) without any specific incentive. Sharing, as the basic behavioral trait that it is, is not something that we have to have a specific incentive for, except in our highly adapted socio-economic system where the general consensus among economists is that there has to be a specific value to be derived in order for sharing to take place.

    The idea here is that Web 2.0 with its hunter-gatherer model of behavior is in the process of unraveling our concept of "value" and economic reciprocity in general and promoting an egalitarian model of sharing (i.e. global value.)


  5. I think the lure of such a system is amazingly powerful. Most people want to know what others think of them, and sites like Don’t Date Him Girl (where women warn women about men who have cheated on or lied to them) show that they are comfortable sharing such data about others.

    Working with your hunter-gatherer metaphor, such a system is almost required online as the web puts us in contact every day with people who we have no previous experience with. I guess eBay’s seller rating system and numerous other systems already do that.

    It makes sense in the “real world” too to offset the fact that with all the time spent online and with traditional media, people have less time to build face-to-face relationships. They already turn to dating sites – how much better would it be if one could lurk behind a mailbox and query the rating of a prospective date. While the dating site might offer a review system, one that follows a person around would be much more comprehensive and representative of the total person.

    I do agree with Manu’s assessment that a system like this could be a nightmare. I do think that if it were built to allow a person to interact with their own tag cloud (not to edit but to annotate) many of his worries would be lessened.

    Interesting post and a great site!

  6. I'm motivated to build a DontDateHer.com site now to level the playing field.

    You're a natural born product manager/envisioneer. You should stick around.

    Thanks for the comments and the idea :)

  7. […] Any idea that can deliver a lot of power to someone and is realistic enough to be attempted will inevitably get built by someone. It doesn’t matter who thought of it first. So it’s better to put these ideas (be them good like the Wikipedia 3.0/Web 3.0 idea or bad like the Tagging idea of this idea) out there in the open and let people be aware of them and debate them. […]

  8. […] Who 2.0: Tagging People in the Real World […]

  9. […] If people where to have their FOAFs encoded on RFID tags (along with User ID) that are placed inside a digital watch (think Casio G-Shock) then whenever FOAF-watch-wearing users are present within short distance from each other in the real world (well, indoors at least) a network of RFID sensors would detect if they have 1st, 2nd or 3rd-degree friend in common and transmit a signal to their watches which would in turn beep and display the name of the party in common as well as the name of the second party and their location relative to a given node within the RFID sensor network. […]

  10. […] It doesn’t matter that you thought of it first. So it’s better to put your ideas out there in the open, be them good ideas like Wikipedia 3.0, P2P 3.0 (The People’s Google) and Google GoodSense or “potentially” concern-causing ones like the Tagging People in the Real World and the e-Society ideas. […]

  11. […] Who 2.0: Tagging People in the Real World […]

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