Monday, April 16, 2007

“Software intended to shape culture” - on talk by Stowe Boyd at Web2.0 Expo

This entry is about a talk given by Stowe Boyd at the Web2.0 expo about "building social applications". Stowe appears to be essentially a professional blogger/high-powered social computing consultant.. His talk was engaging, discussing some simple formula for developing “software intended to shape culture” (apparently a phrase he coined way back in the day when the web was young) and ultimately ending with a slightly sublime insight. Like just about everyone else at this conference, he must have mentioned about 20 times in his two hours. He also spent quite a bit of time on, Some highlights

  • “individual is the new group” – so you need to satisfy them (duh.)
  • “buddylist is the center of the universe” – your connections define you. (See for a cool visualization of Google’s view of a website’s universe).
  • Reputation systems are crucial. See eBay’s afterthought system, DIGG’s extensively thought-out adaptive system. “Swarmth” – using the WoC for establishing reputation (which is tightly, importantly related to identity).
  • Seek successful motifs and add them to your site (tags, wikis, ... ) (duh)
  • Add mechanisms to import existing social networks into yours
    o also related theme is that mashing up various successful apps into yours is no longer just a good idea, it is crucial.
  • 3 steps – “me, mine, market”. Start with an individual purpose (e.g. buy a dress), move through a social space (e.g. ask your ‘friends’, ask experts, talk to people about it somehow..), satisfy purpose in the market (buy the one you want). Very simple recipe for building a “social application”.

    Ok, those were the basics for the talk, but this was the interesting bit. I’ll have to go dig out an exact quote, or you can find it in his talk, but his idea is that people’s primary motivation for using the Web (or likely doing much of anything) is discovery. In particular, discovery of self.

    As I’m learning now from an identity woman , “identity [self] is and has always been socially constructed” (which reminds me of the book “The Social Construction of Reality”). Web2.0 is enabling this social construction to happen online. So what.

    Communities in reality operate based on trust. {If||when||already are} online communities are to really succeed, we need mechanisms for establishing trust. Stowe points out that this is already sort of achieved via things like linkbacks to blogs. Clearly there are lots of ways to approach this, but there is one crucial thing that they are all (as far as I can tell) dependent on – unique identification.

    Trust is built on past experiences. To link multiple experiences together, you need something unique, like a face or (), to associate with those experiences. Now, trust can be associated with a person/ online agent within the context of a particular social application. I can estimate how much I might believe what bgood @ linked_in has to say based on his network and how well it might overlap with my own, but so far it is quite challenging to carry this reputation, this identity across into something new – say a new account like benjamgo on some new web2.0 application like

    This is, of course, a standard data integration issue that is solvable in principle via unique identification. Here is where ‘user-centric identification’ (e.g. OpenId) comes to play. Forget that database of logins and passwords you keep, the day is approaching where you will only need one. Because of this, it will be easy to bring your social network, your contacts, beliefs, actions, your ‘self’ with you wherever you go.

    Cool right?

    I think mostly yes, but there are things to think about carefully.

    We are talking about the potential end of anonymity on the Internet - and eventually everywhere else.

    Is this good? Bad? Why? How?


    Morgan Langille said...

    People want both. I think the web has really excelled because people like being anonymous. They can view what they want and say what they want without the criticism of the real world.
    However, I think the need to connect a profile to a real person will continue to increase as people use the web as an extension of their personality/existence. I don't think one will ever take over the other. I think many people will end up having both and isn't that what the web is really about...having more choices?