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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Authority Search and Social Webdesign

Loic Le Meur wrote an interesting article last week on filtering by Authority to which I fully disagree:

"There were more than 7000 tweets posted during the two days of LeWeb, no way anyone can read them quickly. We need filtering and search by authority. We're not equal on Twitter, as we're not equal on blogs and on the web. I am not saying someone who has more followers than yourself matters more, but what he says has a tendency to spread much faster. Comments about your brand or yourself coming from @techcrunch with 36000 followers are not equal than someone with 100 followers. Most people use Twitter with a few friends, but when someone who has thousands, if not tens of thousands of followers starts to speak, you have to pay attention.

Brands do pay attention and already start understanding the difference. We made the experiment with Ben Metcalfe. I started complaining that Sprint was not offering the new Blackberry (they still don't, I want a BB Bold with worldwide unlimited data) on Twitter and minutes later a Sprint representative contacted me and offered me VIP customer service. I loved it. For the experiment, @dotben started also complaining about the same issue (and really would love a Bold too, it was true) but nothing happened for Ben. Why not? Sprint understood that I have nearly 10x the number of followers of Ben so I had to be answered immediately, even with my weird last name no one can pronounce. Ben has almost 2000 followers, I think Sprint should actually pay attention too.

What we need is search by authority in Twitter Search. Technorati had nailed it years ago by allowing searches filtered by number of links the blogger had. It would be very easy for Twitter to add an authority line in their search criteria, with the number of followers so that you can search for say, only people who have more than a thousand followers and see what they say. React as fast as you can for criticism from them. It is not a criteria for being smart or not, but clearly a criteria for how fast something can spread."

I fully agree with Loic that the amount of information we spread out nowadays is too much. If you pick up a saturday issue of the New York Times you'll be getting more information than a person would get in his whole life say 200 years ago. Every year we see a stellar growth in information. The information poured onto us in the last five years through the internet is more than the information mankind has produced in the 5,000 years before.

No wonder we get lost along the way, and you've got a hell of a job in finding out who really does know something about the issue you're pondering. I don't have Loics reputation, so I don't count as an authority here, but I dare say Loic is wrong. He's off by miles.

In his blogpost he pleas to have a twitter search by authority, just like technorati who worked out an algorithm to define the authority of your blog. I'll walk a mile with him on this path as the algorithm to define authority by number of citations or links is much better than counting sheer numbers of followers. However...

There's a catch.

The catch is in creating an elite layer, the twitterati, the digerati, or whatever you'd like to call them. While reading Loic's blogpost, two things came to mind. First a conversation I had past New Years'Eve and a blogpost I wrote about half a year ago on the Social Web.

The New Years Eve conversation I had was a conversation with my neighbour and my Sister in Law who has recently received her PhD at the Oxford University. She graduated in the interaction between insects and how that would affect a Ecological systems or something like that. Fact is she worked at the same department as Dawekins (the Evolution theory zealot) and the discussion went into Evolutionism vs. Creationism. On both sides you have zealots and with neither you can have a normal scientific, fact based discussion. Evolutionism is the dominant philosophy in Science these days and to most people it seems like the case has been closed. Evolution has been scientifically verified, beyond doubt. Well, it isn't. I didn't see a video on YouTube to prove it (nor did I see a video on YouTube to prove Divine Creation) and if you would conduct objective, unbiased science, you would have to conclude that the evolution theory has gaps. In a scientific setting you'd count on educated minds questioning these results, but in the way it is presented to our children who do not have the cognitive skills yet to analyse results, we are brainwashing them. If you look at how the scientific scene works it explains a lot. Authority in Science comes from the number of publications you have in a major magazine. Every paper you submit is reviewed by an editor who likes it, or not, regardless of the argumentation to your findings. Let's say you write an article about how Evolution sucks, no matter if you include 100% proof, if the editor doesn't like it, you're out. Next step is the peer review. Every paper, once it has passed the editorial selection, is sent to peers, colleagues and the same selections starts over again. Let's say my findings are solid and proves the previously published research of one of my reviewers wrong, he won't like that as it will make him lose his reputation, authority or stature. Case closed. No publication.

Selection and authority in this process kill Science as it should be unbiased and objective. It isn't. I think the same would count for authority based filtering. The key issue here is in automation. Google and other search engines have worked out algorithms, as well as technorati who put auhority to blogs. No matter how much intelligence you put into these intermediates, they cannot compete with the selection capacity of the human brain. These selection mechanisms will undoubtedly produce a prevailing elite, just like in the science case above and smart, intelligent and argumented opinions to the contrary will be neglected.

This made me recall a post I made several months ago on the social web called "Power to the Community" In this blogpost I discussed how my colleague defines social webdesgin. This is way more than defining the social web. It is about desinging your websites to create emergent behaviour. In extremis this could lead to Isaac Asimov's foundation series in which he presents the 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:

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

In creating automated intelligent interfaces to filter through the inprocessable amount of digital information we might just be on our way to do that...


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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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Thursday, November 22, 2007

Your expectations of the Metaverse in 2007 (2)

Yesterday I blogged about my expectations for the Metaverse in 2007 in answer to Rick's question. His reply to my answer (part of it) was:

"My problem is that, imho Second Life isn't a business platform at this moment
in which these goals can be achieved."


and

"Then it comes to waiting for the next 'killer app' which really draws the
crowd into the metaverse. However, I'm having difficulties in formulating the
needs in which this 'holy grail' should provide. Is it mass collaboration, the
digital long tail, outsourcing or will the virtual economy grow to such an
extent that retail goes 3D because of efficiency? In other words, what is your
vision of a businessmodel that goes beyond the limitations of Second Life, which
added value can a 3D environment have for entrepeneurs and how will crowds be
involved?"


These are easy questions, much like "Why are we here? How does the universe work?" The answer is similarly hard. If I had a straightforward answer, I'd probably be a millionaire soon.
It's the X-million dollar question.


As a Metaverse Evangelist, or sr. Networked Virtual Environment Consultant I could talk about the potential of metaverses forever. To be honest though. We have to be realistic.



  1. We're at the early stages of the industry. Many companies are still having difficulties in understanding web 2.0; seeing blogs and wiki's rise but don't know how to implement it in their corporate strategy, let alone we can convince companies to adapt to the Metaverse overnight. It's a process.
  2. There's a couple of industries that can make quick wins with metaversal presence (like real estate), but not every product is suitable for a 3D environment (like mortgages)

Desinging the Metaverse Killer App

When it comes to designing the metaversal killer app I'd say it's too early to tell. We still don't have a web 2.0 killer app. Every day new sites, new worlds and new functionality emerges. The killer app will have to be a mashup of the best of both worlds; 3D Facebook, Google virtualisation or whatever. I've got tons of unformulated thoughts on this but what it comes down to is that we have to move from technology driven design to social design; step out of the binary limitations and explore the realms of psychology and communication to understand human needs for interaction and information and only then move on to functionality on demand. 2007 is a year of options. We see variation, we see diferent platforms, technologies and cultures emerge. Now is the time to explore, the time of veni vidi vici. Observe, Asses and Implement (though by by trial and error). To Incorporate, that's 2010 and beyond for the majority of companies.

Time for bed now. A few more points need to be addressed tomorrow...

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