Social Networks, Collaboration and Community

Most amounts of traffic on the internet are related to human interaction. Every click, transaction, communication or consumption that we do triggers events that are responded to within software running on internet connected machines.

The hope of the semantic Web fostered by Web inventor Tim Berners Lee, is to facilitate machine-to-machine communication and provide meaning to data. The kicker? Machines don’t buy things, fall in love, play games or create and there isn’t much money chasing them since making machines more efficient at processing and understanding reduces costs. Motivating humans to interact when they want to buy, hook up, play or collaborate on creation drives top-line revenue.

For the last month or so, I’ve been deeply involved within the next generation internet aspects of social software, networking, forums, collaboration and other aspects that are driving people’s attention to sites like Myspace, Facebook, LinkedIn, LiveJournal, MixedNutz.net, or Mooble.

When you think about social software and networks, don’t focus on the technology, interoperation or how cool microformats will be when little pieces of functionality can be shared around the ‘net. Instead, focus on what is driving the incentives and motivations of people that are connected since this will inform your understanding of why people cluster together.

For example, did you know that the nonprofit sector share of GDP (gross domestic product) is close to 7 percent, and it employs 10 percent of the work force in the United States? (Brookings Institution PDF). To get a feel for just how many organizations there are out there in this sector, idealist.org maintains a directory of over 52,000 nonprofit and community organizations in 165 countries.

Why do people join? What do they do once part of the non-profit or an affinity group? What are their payoffs?

Affinity groups are often characterized as people interested, say, in photography, a certain make or model of automobile, airplane, boat or hobby. I’ve seen knitting groups, people interested in places in Scotland, and ecotourism groups. The term “affinity group” actually came out of activist terminology but people clustering around shared interests is probably as old as humankind.

As I’ve been assisting a couple of groups on sites that really should go far beyond simple forums like vBulletin, phpBB or SMF, I’ve learned that the only way social sites of any kind will be successful in the long run is if they do a few things really well: be the hub for the group, while being set up to interconnect and interoperate with other sites that are similiar, aligned or would make sense to partner with in some fashion.

Civicspace (built on Drupal) has this interconnection and interoperation at top-of-mind. What appears to be a re-engineering of forums and community, is a platform called CollectiveX still in beta. These two are evidence of a growing body of people that are focusing on what it will take to drive social connections and the power of the collective to the next level with technology.

The only way for you to truly get a handle on the gignormous onrush of offerings attempting to meet the needs of people in a myriad of ways, is to actually pay a visit to them. If you’d like to see a really terrific compilation of social-oriented sites that will get you started on understanding the new connectedness, let me recommend this one at Razorwest.

Getting platforms, standards, and microformats in place (along with digital identity so we don’t have to create profile-after-profile-after-profile for every single social site we join) can’t happen fast enough for me.

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2 Comments

  1. Danny on April 5, 2006 at 8:20 am

    You have an interesting point of view; and in addition to this, an inside story coming from http://www.gabcity.com a new emerging social network is that these guys are preparing some solution to the case where you can check all your profiles listed in several social network such as http://www.myspace.com, http://www.hi5.com, http://www.friendster.com, http://www.facebook.com, and much more, through one single http://www.gabcity.com login; this might be a practical feature that will add value to social-oriented sites.



  2. Steve Borsch on April 5, 2006 at 9:51 am

    Looks interesting. It seems that they’re primarily a social site vs. what I think is needed: a one-stop-shop where you can build a profile that can be used all over the ‘net. I’ll keep an eye on what they do though and thanks for the heads-up.



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Strategist. Learner. Idea Guy. Salesman. Connector of Dots. Friend. Husband & Dad. CEO. Janitor. More here.

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