The following notes, are my personal notes from the excellent presentation Stowe gave during the course of LIFT two weeks ago, together with a following post about another excellent presentation by Tom Coates during BarCamp London, I’ll try to resume the basic ideas behind the so called Social Applications and the Social Web, formerly known as Web2.0.

Designing Social Applications Workshop by Stowe Boyd

Back in 99, Stowe wrote something along this lines his personal blog “/message”:

“A new category of software is emerging, software intended to augment social systems (…) I call these systems social tools: software to shape culture”

Well, I couldn’t agree more, as he puts its, the internet is no longer a huge database and it’s users aren’t doing simple queries anymore, price based searching or common characteristics search are things of the past. People are in fact using the internet and the tools as a mean to extent their own social life. What takes part on the “third place”, those places where we tend to spend time, between Home and Work, the place were we actually go to meet people and further personal relationships. People this days are less affiliate to groups, political parties, bars or even sports clubs, people are overcoming that social need by other means, in this case and for the purpose of this subject, their using the internet as a mean to overcame that essential need: SOCIALIZE.

The question we must ask ourselves as a whole and in terms of general trend, is “Where are we spending time these days”, because, according to different sources, we are witnessing a major cultural shift, currently it seems, that for each hour spent watching TV, we’re spending more than four on the internet. I can personally subscribe to this thought, other than some occasional screening of special series, like Heroes, BSG or Dr. House, I rarely watch television at all, which could be making me less aware of my surroundings, but it seems these days is doing precisely the opposite, I much more involved on my local community, much more aware of national problems and at the same time, my personal network exploded thru the online communities I take part in.

Back to the social applications, and what makes them special is that contrary to their predecessors, these applications have in common the rule of having the individual needs at their core, individuals and their needs must come first than the group. Individual is the new group: my passions, my contacts, my markets, and my groups, in a sense: ME FIRST!. The discovery of the others comes as a second task, and that’s something very new and carries an immense power regarding to user loyalty and user growth when we talk about web applications.

Me FirstThe individuals needs are first than the group!: provide individuals with enough tools to present themselves, their interests, hobbies, quests and whatever serves the purpose of your service and you’re on the track for a successful social application. The concept of bottom up belonging, in a sense that our integration on a particular group of interest or people is made by the creation of my own “presentation of myself” online rather than a clear membership or invitation to take part on that community. The communities without an effective membership are sometimes also refer to as communities of practice, community that one transparently belong to without explicitly make something in that direction, other than express his opinion and experiences in a certain community of practitioners.

At the same time, and following the boom of social apps these days, it’s evermore important to actually categorize and determine some differences among them, namely, the semi- and asocial applications that we’ve seen appear on the net horizon, apps like iTunes, BestBuy, Pandora, eBay, NetFlix, Amazon and even Basecamp.

NetworkThe Buddy lists are center of the new Universe: I am made greater by the sum of my connections and so are my connections. Being online these days evolves around connections! Who do we know? who shares my interests? who takes part on my second life? Who has and read the same books I did? Who hears the same musics? Everything, connects us somehow, implicitly creates communities of people with common characteristics. And better than the value or our own network, is that the Network as a whole also benefits from this ever enlarging number of groups, the more it fosters the bigger is the value of the network.

Profiles seem to be the a fundamental part of the social web, my online identity, kind of aggregates my flow, it’s not static, but an ever evolving presentation of myself, bridges me to the real, outside of the network world. The profile allows me to create and discover social affiliations, engage conversations, swarm intelligence and gather a reputation. The conversation flows within this networks, the media and systems hold the pieces but not the conversations, growing the notion that to follow the conversation one has to be inside the flow and not outside of it.

Tags matter in social networks, their the base of the grassroots classification therefore essential for the creation of these communities of practice.

Discovery is the new drive engine for people getting online, we’re using the grid to find people, find stuff, find groups, and in the end find ourselves and evolve as individuals, much of what we see as ourselfs is based on the groups we belong to. To take part of these groups however we have to accept certain facts, accept the asymmetry of the networks, some people matter more than others, side chats are normal, and they help build internal connections within the groups, groups that share everything are exceptions, not the rule!

Thru others we find ourselfs

One has to accept these facts, and know from the start that some people will have more power than others within the group, and within groups we see the rise of the weighted recommendations, where some of the members since have better “karma” inside the group see their opinion take more value than the opinion of members with less “karma”

Vox Popully, Vox Humana

The latest players to get to the market, always have clear advantage and benefit from others despair, services like Last.FM, Upcomming.org, FaceBook or ThisNext all seem to have in common a deep knowledge of the ground rules of a social application, but even clear winners like Last.FM can make mistakes, inside Last.FM you can’t search for groups, or why can’t tags help and be the source of group creations? Basecamp on the other hand, have problems, like not allowing people to the all the projects you have based on several different Basecamp accounts on one same, personal view! On Basecamp, we have multiple logins for the same individual. All of them however clearly know that the more I use them, as an application, or as a service, the more probable is that I’ll invite others, and in that sense the user interface and user interaction matters a lot, and correctly on their concerns and development timelines.

Stowe ended the workshop with a set of questions for the future:

  • How high is up?
  • When will we see the birth of a social iTunes?
  • Why are calendars and calendar sharing so hard?
  • When we’ll develop an effective social browsing?

and also left a wise advice for anyone thinking on launching any sort of social service or application: Don’t launch it, before you can get all the social features working, correctly!!

Notes: Stowe published his notes where he has the presentation available for download, and Stephanie also posted her excellent notes on Stowe’s workshop.