I used to be an even bigger geek than this.

Back in the mid-1990s, I lived on the Internet even more so than I do now, and dabbled in as many obscure and near-pointless geek activities as I could get away with. By the time the Millennium rolled around, various constraints on my personal time led me to neglect a lot of those interests, to the point I wasn't do much more than checking my e-mail and surfing the web. For the past couple of weeks, a set of geek conincidences has me dabbling in a lot of those old interests again.

It started after my rant about weblog syndication. I was noticed a few sites were including non-RSS RDF (primarily Dublin Core) in their RSS/RDF (RSS 1.0) files, so I decided to read up on the subject of mixing RDF schemas and see if it was worth the effort. That led me to discover the FOAF Project, which is developing an RDF schema for describing people.

FOAF would offer a user-controlled distributed solution to the management of "social network" data, such as that currently managed by proprietary services like Friendster and Tribe.net. As it turns out, social networks are one of those geeky interests I'd let slide -- I was one of those strange people who encouraged friends to join the original incarnation of Sixdegrees.com (not it's current incarnation). So, I decided to read up on give FOAF a try and incorporate some personal metadata into this blog. I figured it would only take a couple of hours reading and writing, and I'd be encouraging a useful standard. (I used to do that a lot -- I was one of those geeks who started using (and publically ranting about) HTML standards years before it was trendy.) So, I pointed my browser at the main specifications and started reading.

That's when things started getting out of control.

Reading through the FOAF Project site, I discovered that one of the personal properties ("personal trait" would be a better term, if you're not into RDF terminology) that can be encoded in FOAF is a person's Geek Code, the odd-looking text string geeks on Usenet used to share personal information about themselves years ago. Being a geek, I of course had a Code back in the 1990s, but I hadn't updated it in years.

Reading further, I discovered that many FOAF developers also use the Web of Trust vocabulary, an RDF schema for describing their use of PGP, a public key encryption program that's been popular with geeks since its debut in the early 1990s. Unlike many encryption systems that depend on trusting authority, PGP uses a "web of trust model", where users can assign "trust values" to friends, use those values to derive the trustworthiness of strangers, and create a social network of identity-verified strangers.

Did you notice my use of the words "geeks" and "social networks"? Yep, I'm a PGP user, since 1993, although I'm not really the advocate or expert I used to be. So that's another thing I've been neglecting. I hadn't even upgraded my PGP software since I bought a new computer in 1999.

So I decided to include the Geek Code and WOT metadata in the FOAF file I was writing, then grabbed a copy of the current Geek Code specification, and began updating my Geek Code. Mostly, I just had to raise my ranking in some areas (I know a lot more Perl now than I did in the 1990s) while lowering it in other areas (I don't read as many books as I used to, because I'm too busy reading useless specifications on the Web). Guess what I had forgotten? One of the traits described by the Geek Code is PGP use and advocacy. I lowered my rating, and moved on through the specification.

I also had to lower my Usenet rating. Usenet is the distributed network of newsgroups that's existed since 1980. Before dropping out of grad school, I almost did my master's thesis on Usenet's social structure. Instead, I ended up "going native", and becoming a hardcore Usenetter for several years -- I read and wrote in a couple dozen newsgroups a day; I participated in discussions to create new newsgroups (and new networks), I moderated a newsgroup, I even maintained a couple of different FAQs. One of those FAQs was about... PGP.

ARGH! Apparently, everything I ever did on the Internet is now hopelessly interconnected, and I haven't kept up on any of it! Dammit, dammit, dammit! I used to be good at being a geek! What the hell happened?

So, after the nervous breakdown, I got to work. In the past two weeks, I've:

So, there. I'm once again a PGP Geek, a Usenet Geek, a FAQ Geek, a Social Network Geek, and a Geek Code Geek, all because I'm in the middle of becoming an RDF geek. I have a big, crazy plan for this blog's RDF files that will have to wait until I install some additional Perl modules, which has to wait until move the blog to a new server next month. I'm also drafting some notes I need to forward to various other geeks whose work I'm interested in. I've got so many geeked ideas running through my head, I'm not even sure where to start.

Apparently, being a geek a lot like being a made man -- Every time I think I'm out, they pull me back in again.

Posted at 11:35:21 PM EST on 31 December 2003 from Trenton, MI