Friday, January 09, 2009

What is Social Webdesign ? Is it dangerous?

In my post yesterday I briefly mentioned a potential danger of social webdesign. But what exactly is social webdesign?

Social webdesign is not about website builders building websites for social networks. Well, not entirely. Social Webdesign is more than putting together a social network, making a site design and putting bits of code into the website. Social Webdesign is about the features on these websites that create communities and addiction.

It's actually about psychologists designing mechanisms that get you hooked, that pull you in hook, line and sinker untill you can't get out anymore.

From a graphical design point of view you could argue that the Facebook design is rather boring, maybe even unattractive. From a technical design point of view you may fuzz about their ecosystem and from an Interaction Design point of view you may freckle over the layout of the interface, but looking at it from a Social Webdesign point of view, it's a different ball park. Social Webdesign is about what makes Facebook work, about the widgets, the features that have attracted millions of users almost overnight.

Let's go S.O.C.I.A.L.

Social webdesign works around several key principles, which we at Sogeti have neatly called S.O.C.I.A.L;

  • Socialness: The measure in which a platform stimulates social interaction and gives social incentives.
  • Organicness: The ability of a platform of self organising communities.
  • Collaborative Intelligence: Mechanisms to make talents explicit and converge
  • Aliveness: Necessary signs of live, buzzcreators and talk of the town to create a vibrant community to which people can easily connect.
  • Linkedness: ‘no social platform is an island’…

These principles are the foundations to our Teampark experiments, an enterprise solution to utilise the power of the community inside corporations. Social Webdesign can benefit companies to leverage the creative forces inside.

The hidden danger to Social Webdesign

There's a side to social webdesign though. Yesterday I blogged a little on how Authority based filtering for example can bring about the danger of creating an elite, a dominant opinion in which new and refreshing ideas are taken out of the equasion.

First class social webdesign can have the power to play the masses. It can ignite emergent behaviour and lead groups of people into doing things they would normally not do individually (or are even strongly opposed to). It may well bring about the tools to mass manipulate.

Further reading tip:

One site you might want to check out is Joshua Porter's blog called Bokardo. It is a blog about interface design for social web sites and applications, about recommendation systems, identity, ratings, privacy, comments, profiles, tags, reputation, sharing, as well as the social psychology underlying our motivation to use (or not use) these things.

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Friday, November 23, 2007

Power to the Community

"Power to the Community" was the title of one of the main sessions prior to Rod Beckstrom's presentation on the Starfish and the Spider at the "From Web 2.0 to Enterprise 2.0" conference in Utrecht last wednesday.

I liked this presentation, not because Patrick Savalle is a Sogeti colleague, but I like his way of thinking. It was what you could call a boardroom wakeup call. The essence of the presentation was moving the crowd from version 1.0 to 2.0.

One of the things to churn on was explaining the Peter Principle which often occurs in centralized organisations (the spiders) which pionts out that a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.

His second thought focussed on emergent behaviour; In a crowd we all do things we wouldn't do as individuals. We've all been suckered into buying things we don't need by early marketing guru's like Edward Bernays who laid the foundations of mass manipulation and crowd control.

His final thought was called Social (web-) Design. When looking at social networking sites you have to find what makes these things attractive. How do you build communities? It's in little things, it's in poking, it's in listing events, in smilies, profile pictures or tweets: all these little things are a frameset in which the crowd interacts and grows into a collective community. This collective community will eventually return to emergent behaviour so we have to be carefull. Edward Bernays, much like his uncle Sigmund Freud, wasn't all that happy with what he did to humanity. Maybe in 20 years we'll have a generation of social webdesigners looking back at how they manipulated the masses.

In my opinion that's a pretty spooky thought. Walk along that path and we might even end up with Asimov's famous Psychohistory;

The basis of psychohistory is the idea that, while the actions of a particular individual could not be foreseen, the laws of statistics could be applied to large groups of people and used to predict the general flow of future events. Asimov used the analogy of a gas: in a gas, the motion of a single molecule is very difficult to predict, but the mass action of the gas can be predicted to a high level of accuracy - known in physics as the Kinetic Theory. Asimov applied this concept to the population of the fictional Galactic Empire, which numbered in a quintillion. The character responsible for the science's creation, Hari Seldon, established two postulates:

  • That the population whose behaviour was modeled should be sufficiently large
  • They should remain in ignorance of the results of the application of psychohistorical analyses.

So my question to Patrick would be: Shouldn't the title be "Take power from the community" instead of "give power to"?

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