A quick something on social software. It's important to clarify what the problem space is here. I'm reluctant to say it's possible to classify groups, but I think it is possible to label the sort of activity a group is performing into push and pull. I've nicked those terms from queue theory (see my post on queue theory and the NHS), and use them for different ways of exploring a landscape. Pull is undirected or atelic. Think about how evolution works, or an idle conversation. Push on the other hand is a goal-oriented, industrial process. It's directed or telic. These media terminology notes have more descriptive word associations.

Telic communities (formally organised into corporations, teams, pressure groups) are hard enough normally, and what I believe social software is concerned with is how to provide for these group activities when the secret properties of the real world aren't present. The most important of these are:

  • Total immersion. In RL, your avatar or presence is isomorphic with you.
  • The media mix allows for appropriate use: solid decisions are on paper, sub-arguments occupy the gestural plane, geography is important.
  • It's natural.

So that's why I say we have to look at how successful teams work. Some of the things I'm thinking about:

  • Some telic groups are driven by common myths. I remember JC Herz mentioning this (the modern myths are: hero, science, environmental, economic). Who said this?
  • People often don't want to participate or direct their efforts. What are the parallels with gaming here?
  • This sounds much like local government and democratic participation.
  • Time-binding is massively important. In any group, different media are used and the interaction between them creates the amplification and reification of the decision making process. A community must be able to store argument and decision separately in short halflife and long halflife encodings.
  • Bootstrap off existing social structures. Don't attempt to model the group, just provide a substrate for it. Example, votes in the real world are the endpoint of verbal and non-verbal argument. But online they're often the starting point.

Thinking. I'm away for the next week so if you see any good social software reading material, please leave it in the comments.