A brief introduction to Yenta
I have implemented, and am continuing to improve, a system called Yenta. It
provides privacy-protected, distributed, automatic generation of clusters of users who are
interested in similar topics. This is a sort of coalition-building or matchmaking system.
These clusters then serve as the basis for introducting users to each other. Users can
send messages to particular other users, or to everyone in the cluster. In addition to
its obvious role in introducing people who have never met, Yenta can serve in another
role: finding people in the same organization, perhaps only a few offices away from each
other, who should have known that they are working on similar projects or with
similar tools, but didn't, because it never occurred to either party to mention it to the
Every user runs their own copy of Yenta, and the various Yentas communicate with each
other, arranging introductions and passing messages. Personal information is tightly
protected, without requiring large amounts of trust either in the network or in any Yenta
not under your own control. The eventual goal is the ubiquitous distribution of Yenta
across the Internet.
There are three major motivations for this work:
- Technical. I'd like to advance the state of the art in building
distributed, decentralized, multi-agent systems. There are a number of problems to
be addressed in making these sorts of applications, especially if one cares about
protecting people's privacy at the same time.
- Sociological. The net is a big place, and it's sometimes difficult to find
the communities you'd like to find. As the net gets bigger and the signal-to-noise
ratio decreases, this seems to be getting even harder. Investigating how Yenta can
help, and also how people use its built-in reputation system, could be very interesting.
- Political. Too many systems that handle personal information think about
privacy and civil liberties issues last, when it's too late to fix often horrendous
gaffes in these areas. This project is an attempt to show that it's possible to
build such a such in which privacy issues are taken seriously. Yet building
robust, secure, private, and distributed systems requires strong cryptography, so
part of the motivation here is also to show that strong cryptography is not just
for the "bad guys", whatever your definition of "bad guys" might be.
Getting your own copy of Yenta
Read this quick five-minute pitch
for exactly what Yenta can do for you, and how you can get a copy.
If you think you might be interested in helping to port Yenta to a new platform,
please let me know.
Finding out more about Yenta
There are a lot of ways to find out about Yenta; here are some pointers.
- Information for programmers:
- A PhD dissertation.
- A variety of short papers:
A Multi-Agent, Referral Based Matchmaking System, presented
at The First International
Conference on Autonomous Agents (Agents '97), Marina del Rey, California,
- A Security Architecture for Multi-Agent Matchmaking
PDF), presented at The Second International
Conference on Multi-Agent Systems at Keihanna Plaza, Kansai Science
City, Japan, December '96.
- A Multi-Agent Referral System for Matchmaking
PDF), presented at
The First International
Conference on the Practical Applications of Intelligent Agents and Multi-Agent
Technology, London, UK, April '96.
- Clustering and Information Sharing in an Ecology of Cooperating Agents
presented at The AAAI Spring Symposium '95
on Information Gathering in Distributed, Heterogeneous Environments,
Palo Alto, CA.
- Clustering and Information Sharing in an Ecology of Cooperating Agents, or How to Gossip without Spilling the Beans
presented at The
1995 Conference on Computers, Freedom, and Privacy. This paper was
the Student Scholarship Paper Winner at CFP
- A complete
description of the basic idea, written in late 1994 and early 1995, as a
large, bushy bunch of hypertext. Note that this material should be considered
historical and hence I make no claims to keep it regularly updated. As such, it
will contain citations to old papers and old results.
Last modified: Thu Feb 10 00:05:52 EST 2000