Social Ism

I’m reminded again that everyone discovers DNA at the same time. The social software meme seems to be everywhere. By software, I think everyone means web applications. Yesterday, citing an earlier Ross Mayfield post, I suggested:

“If the Net’s open protocols weren’t in place and agreed upon, we could never improve it with the more highly abstracted, software-only, permission-free improvements, social software really, that we can now imagine together.
Our primary hope depends on our shared imagination, freed from the limited horizons of those who would manage us into irrelevance. As the ad says, we’ve already got the shoes. Now Just Do It.”

And Ross Mayfield said:

“The physical and logical infrastructure of the web has reached a maturity while usage has surpassed a tipping point where it is ingrained in most people’s lives.  As people have become participants on the web, they are building a new social infrastructure, connection by connection.”

“The above table provides a framework for understanding how Social Networking Models differ by how personal connections are made.  When a community is served by Social Software, its design places limits on how relationships are formed, especially in how strangers make initial connections.”

(And conversely, design might focus participants’ energies to surpass current norms. FWIW, Xpertweb is an explicit network. Every data item is entered by the participants.)

This is an important entry by Ross, who posts important things several times a day. Here are some other excerpts:

“Social Software design fosters specific social norms by regulating possible behavior.  Regulation is a good thing.  A stem cell can grow into any cell in the human body not by hard coded instructions of what to become, but regulators telling it what not to become.  Simple rules in complex adaptive systems, like social networks, yield complex results.  And as Clay Shirky said, Social Software encodes political bargains that are required because of natural social tension.”

“…Trust ascends through these different models. You are more likely to trust someone introduced through a referral than someone you know through conversation than someone you meet in person for the first time than someone who declares their background and interests. However, speed descends through these models. You can quickly navigate and introduce yourself through an Explicit Network, especially compared to working your way through a Private Network.”

Aha, the trust thing again, as Stuart Henshall urges us to focus upon.

I’m a Johnny-come-lately to the social software conversation, and no match for Ross Mayfield. But I find we’ve been working on social software for years. I can’t imagine software more social than Xpertweb which, though its purpose is unabashedly commercial, intends to socialize its users by the character of user ratings it tracks and publishes. You might say that Xpertweb is a set of values expressed through users’ valuations. As Einstein is quoted, “Everything that can be counted does not necessarily count; everything that counts cannot necessarily be counted.”

Social software then, at a minimum, should at least make sure that things that matter are easier to count than they are without the software. Any other attributes may make the software elegant or compelling or easy to use, but the social part seems to be the trick of newly exposing communal activities or opinions that were not previously visible.

So that sets the bar for social software. We recognize it because it lets us start to count things we care about, but the designer has to figure out what those things are. Presumably they’re not obvious yet, or we’d already be counting them. What characteristic, theme perhaps, might indicate something needs new counting tools?

Homeless to Harvard

. . . is the name of a new Lifetime movie about the rise of Liz Murray, whose story was profiled on 20/20 last fall,

“By age 15, Murray was homeless, her mother had died of AIDS and her father was on the streets.
     Murray determined after her mother’s death that her life would be different. She refused to end up like her mom. The best way to avoid that fate was to go back to school.”

So Elizabeth finished High School in two years, got a job and scholarship through The New York Times and got accepted at Harvard.

We will all be inspired by this movie, as we must be by Liz Murray’s story. But oddly enough, it resonates with a quote from a retired Air Force General talking about the current war plan.

Ordinary Need Not Apply

General Merrill A. “Tony” McPeak, retired former chief of staff of the U.S. Air Force, interviewed last Wednesday by, said:

“I never made a plan that relied on the courage of my own troops. You hope that — and they generally will — fight bravely. Your plan ought to be predicated on more realistic assumptions.”

McPeak’s point could be applied to societies. Should it be necessary to be so above average to achieve the dreams that we tell ourselves are our birthright? Our society’s accepted wisdom is that anyone can achieve their dream, yet so few even glimpse that dream that the conventional wisdom sounds like marketing. Maybe it’s a lottery ad.

The dominant fiction of our time is that we in the U.S. of A. don’t need no stinkin’ social safety nets or universal health insurance or the other attributes of the advanced European societies. We don’t need them because we’re in the land of unfettered opportunity. Look at the Liz Murray example. Or the late Senator Moynihan, or so many others who had what it takes to rise out of poverty. The problem is that not many people like that achieve their dream. Hell, most people can’t achieve their parents’ dream. The stories may support our national fiction but the facts don’t. A shrinking percentage of the population has the opportunity to live as well as their parents did and work as little as their parents did and have acceptable health care, including people who go to Harvard on scholarship. If software is to be social, those attributes are reasonable design goals: to return to a pattern in which each generation’s prospects are statistically better than their parents’ prospects. Think of it as compassionate conservatism–advocating a return to past expectations.

Those are the goals of Xpertweb. Will it work? Your guess is as good as mine. But from the nettle of depressing observations, we might pluck some positive notions that are still so hard to prove, we can’t yet count on them:

  • Most productivity comes from people who do not feel secure.
  • Most of the money is in the hands of people who do not feel secure.
  • Many people who do not feel secure don’t feel they have the opportunities they need.
  • Many people who do not feel secure spend a lot of time not doing much.
  • People may not need explicit organizations if equipped with software that organizes their energies as well.
  • Perhaps social software could help people who do not feel secure to bootstrap, together, a better tomorrow.

If it is possible, that’s the kind of software we’re designing here.

11:35:07 PM    comment [commentCounter (115)]

Social Networking Models

Network Type



Explicit Declarative Ryze
Physical In-person Meetup
Conversational Communication LiveJournal; Weblogs
Private Referral Friendster

© 2003 Ross Mayfield

After a thousand Brooklyn Bridges, hundreds of thousands wow goldof pet rocks and millions of Creed albums later, ol’ P.T. may have been on to something. But Tuesday night, wow goldthe fans — the consumers — got it right and got their money’s worth.

wow gold • 12/30/08; 4:55:03 AM #

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