“Social”ing Applications


Share on LinkedIn

The term “Social” in digital technologies applies to the social “Activities” & “Networks” that people perform & build in these platforms.

By Social “Activities” I mean the various functions like sharing, commenting, rating, reviewing, etc. (also called lifestreaming) and conversing on these platforms. It also includes actions like “friending” or “following”.

One could argue that what I present as social “activities” is what is already very well established as Social “Media”. What I would like to argue is that the term “Media” is a plural of “Medium” and that it refers to the channel that the users use to do the Social “Activities” between themselves.

The outcome of the social “activities” is what is also called as Social “Data” or “Metadata” – shared content, comments, ratings, reviews, friends, followers, etc.

By Social “Networks” I mean the network of people built either explicitly (by friending or following) or implicitly by becoming members of groups, communities, tribes, forums, etc. in these platforms. Social “networks” tell us how the social “data” flows across the users and how the various social “activities” of the individual users influence the other users’ activities.

Most “social” sites allow people to build their networks first and then let them do activities. Most of these activities relate to sharing information & conversations around the shared stuff. Even the numerous games, quizzes, etc. apps that members use on Facebook and other such networking sites allow them to share the results with their friends & most applications also ask of them to share it with their friends so that the usage of the applications increase.

There are however sites that allow a conversation to happen around shared stuff and then the relationships between the members builds over time based on these conversations. Twitter immediately jumps to the forefront here. However, all the bulletin boards & forums of the old come under this category too. Many of these old systems did not allow the users to “friend” or “follow” others but there is no denying the fact that networks existed on these boards/forums albeit implicit.

I am of the opinion that relationships that are built upon conversations and interactions of the members prove far stronger ties than the networks that people build for the sake of building a huge network. Communities with a shared interest, one that they are passionate about and communicate a lot tend to grow in quality and quantity over time. Seth Godin would like to put in the need for leader(s) to tie the community & provide it with a sense of purpose, thus making it a Tribe.

So applications that aspire to become “social” must provide a social “medium” to its users so that they share what they have done using the application and have conversations around their activities in the application. The “social” features should also allow the activity of “following” so that networks are built.

The above not only applies to web sites but also to any traditional groupware or traditional enterprise applications. This idea of extrapolating the “social” to all & any application was conceived and propounded by my good friend and our CKO, Sukumar as what he called Social “Working”.

Oracle’s Social CRM confirms to Sukumar’s views since it allows the sales force to share their accomplishments and customer data with others and also “friend” colleagues. The networks are built based on these social activities of sharing, conversing & friending. This leads to greater collaboration as well as knowledge sharing among the sales force, usually far flung and cut throat.

Being a CKO & responsible for the organization’s Knowledge Management Sukumar espoused it from “within” the firewall POV. I however feel that this is true for anywhere and it is actually very effective for building communities even outside of the firewall.

Forrester’s Sr. Analyst Jeremiah Owyang’s recent report on the Five Eras of Social Web talk of the imminent era of social “colonization”. Jeremiah says that new social technologies like OpenID, OpenSocial, Facebook Connect, Google, etc. will make even normal sites into “social” sites. I see that this is not going to take off until these new technologies do not allow social “activities” to happen.

Widgets from Facebook & Google allows the users to brings their friends to the sites that include these widgets, but currently doesn’t allow them do much. There are however services like Disqus, etc. that allow people to converse over various places as well as bring their network with them to these various sites.

Meebo’s Community IM allows conversations among the network but is low on the other social activities. The Firefox add-on Glue makes it easy to share, rate, review and network around stuff on the net but is solely bound to Firefox.

The Flock browser takes it all to an even greater level by incorporating all these social “activities” & “networks” into the browser itself. Here again it is a browser specific feature. Glue & Flock needs all the members to be using the same tools on the client machine.

All of the above seem to concentrate on social “activities” or social “networks”, not both. However, AOL’s SocialThing for Websites seems to be an all-rounder but seems a bloat and there are not many people using them yet.

So for the moment it is “activities” vs “networks” faceoff among the social apps. I am not betting on either of these parties just yet since they have to beat out a lot of kinks in them and make them uber simple for both the webmasters to implement in their sites as well as make them intuitive for the users to use them.

Prem Kumar Aparanji
SCRM Evangelist @ Cognizant. Additional knowledge in BPM, QA, Innovations, Solutions, Offshoring from previous roles as developer, tester, consultant, manager. Interested in FLOSS, Social Media, Social Networks & Rice Writing. Love SF&F books. Blessed with a loving wife & a curious kid. :)


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here