I’m sure there are better ways to decompose social networks, but in my simple mind, there are only a small number of fundamental components:
- directories and address books (you need to find the person or group you’re looking for)
- profiles and CVs and suchlike (there has to be some way of describing the person or group)
- communications infrastructure (you need ways to talk and listen and exchange messages)
- scheduling infrastructure (you need ways to agree times and places to meet)
- event notifiers (you need ways to spread news and gossip)
All these then get wrapped into a larger infrastructure, which covers four other things:
- an ability to identify oneself
- an ability to personalise the experience
- an ability to have Four Pillars support (search, syndication, fulfilment; we already have conversation)
- an ability for developers to add applications
In a way that’s what Office and Exchange and Outlook was about. In a way that’s what Bloomberg was about. And in a way that’s what Facebook and even Twitter are about.
This is an emergent and evolving space, but only in a narrow respect: communities have been around a very very long time; communications processes have also been around for a very long time. What has changed is the following:
- communications tools are becoming ubiquitous, especially with the web and mobile devices
- communications themselves now persisted digitally (allowing efficient archival, retrieval, search and syndication)
- the tools and the modes of communication have become more affordable
As a result, there’s a lot of learning to be had. Some people are concentrating on the interactions within the communities, the social graph as it were. Some are concentrating on movements: take a look at this article, published in the latest issue of Nature, and building on a theme established by a number of essays written by Barabasi and Gonzalez et al over the last couple of years); some continue to focus on the ownership, privacy and portability of the information. Yes, there’s a lot of learning to be had.
From an enterprise context, the learning takes on one further dimension. Enterprises have always been about walls and perimeters; now, as the walls become more and more porous, as the enterprises extend beyond their traditional boundaries to their customers and supply chains, communities become alliances, they become ecosystems, they become groupings of what Venkat calls “network-based competition”.
Yes, there’s a lot of learning to be hard.
Me, I’m utterly fascinated by one small piece of this overall puzzle. Alerts, event notifications, status messages, whatever you want to call them. Maybe it’s the old journalist in me. That’s why I loved the mini feed in Facebook. That’s why I loved Twitter.
And now, as I see more and more tools that help scrape information to do with events, I find myself going off at a tangent. Realising that we’re going to get overloaded by such messages (remember what happened when people started connecting Twitter to their Facebook status messages?); realising that current tools are already being stretched; and realising that the historical response (aggregation and summarising) is inappropriate.
I think we’re going to see an explosion of activity in the status message related tool space, with two different sets of tools. One to do with personal “manual” input, one to do with automated input. In both cases, I think we’re going to see this explosion connect with a similar set of explosions in the visualisation space, so that we see more colour, more heatmaps, more timelines, more fractal representations, more radar diagrams, more tag-cloud-like diagrams …… but all to do with status messages.
Status messages with a difference. Not aggregated, not summarised, but built around a capillary-action publish-subscribe model. Truly personalised.
That’s provisional enough. Now I wait for the comments so that I can learn more about this.