11.04, Thursday 3 Apr 2003

More social software rambling:

  • Social software acknowledges that in the real world people like to work in groups of more than two, so this person-to-person versus person-to-unbounded_group in email is missing a step. (It's because there's an abstraction, or breakpoint at the sendee/receiver. The email address is just a pointer.) And therefore triads must be treated differently... but only as the first possible manifestation of few-to-few, which bleeds into other forms/axioms with larger groups.
  • Social software acknowledges that social capital starts to appear as people get together (favours swapped, debts owed), ditto groupthink, ditto norms/traditions: and therefore the design has to accomodate routes for people to reciprocate at the same proportionate effort-levels as real life, otherwise all members are going to feel annoyed. (More so: The software could complete the loop and make use of the concept of social capital too.)
  • An example of a feature that could've come from social software design: The IM-online icon in Apple's Mail. It would be better if it appeared closer to the email itself. Or maybe, closer to your focus of reading only when it's an email to/from a group, because then misunderstandings could be extinguished before they blossom.

And some rambling about social software as pre-paradigm:

  • Social software is like the early days of thermodynamics, before stat mech. Or maybe pre-Newton. Or maybe early electricity: we had to make do with rules-of-thumb. Some day all of this will be filled in with limits so we'll say: these approximations apply with this number of people; these others with this number. (This is already happening.)
  • It's different from this kind of science because the models only existed in maths, and now they exist in real life and people can live in them (Outlook). Or maybe not: having a good rule for electricity was important when they were dropping the telegraph cable across the Atlantic. Getting the amps wrong there was an expensive mistake.
  • Normal science/ exploration of an idea includes: fact finding, proposing theories, testing theories. We're proposing, but not testing. We're exploring, but not deriving the facts -- even if it's "this works, this doesn't"; we don't because with social software it comes for free: the ones that work are the ones that are successful. Successful and social should probably be decoupled so we can more easily examine them.

What we need:

Is a proper theory of folk psychology, a proper theory of folk physics, a proper theory of how people classify/understand. And not from the perspective of normal science, which is to say: "When these people have folk X, what is the real X they're thinking of?"

But rather: "What are the evolved attributes of folk X, so we can design for them?"

I like it when people say "I'm a tool guy". That means we (equals me. I'm a paradigm person myself) can take what they do, extract the attributes that made it successful, and reuse elsewhere. Some people can just create social software without thinking about it, like some people are great interior designers, or great orators, great at articulating themselves. Leaving these qualities in the hands of the people who were born with them isn't enough: that's why we teach people how to structure an argument, how to make use of rhetoric, why people go on courses for presentation skills ("What do I do with my hands?").

This is why we have Fung Shui: Folk interior design. Democratising aesthetic sofa positioning.

Social software is pre Fung Shui, pre folk anything. It's hard to slice and dice even, which is a characteristic of things that haven't been shaped and paradigmised. And it's hard because the term "social software" applies to all of:

  • the social software that people make
  • the process of understanding what it is about social software that makes it tick
  • thinking about social software and making rules, finding commonalities

And this is all without even defining what "social software" even means! We can't. It's like putting plumbing, engineering and fluid dynamics in the same box. But that's what electricity was like, what steam power was like early on, so there's hope.

No conclusion.