Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Social Networks And History

What works and why and for whom, too. What powers social networking communities is the people, firstly, yes. But what powers those people is what SN does for them. Our earliest SN was probably when two Neanderthals first sat around a fire together and realised that - and here's the crux - artificially creating a community around some facility was in a way very stimulating and interesting.

You got something out of the SN: something your brain labelled as friends even if the word wasn't there yet, security of knowing you weren't alone, and warmth and safety. A cave or a cluster of people was the first thing we built SN infrastructure out of, and the first thing that came with that was rules. You couldn't just be yourself, becuase in order to enjoy the group - and later, fire - there had to be precedence, seniority, certain things were probably made taboo in pretty quick order.

Those early SNs shaped a lot of our behaviour. Over the millenia the idea of SN was refined and revised, shaped and fitted. One thing about SNs and humans - society is most definitely a thing the members constructed as they went along. They used the latest high tech available to them and each one was used for a mini social reformation.

With communication, you can make one connection (pardon the pun) right away. Please look at telephone networks and then the BBS scene that was built on top of that. Telephone technology itself prevents large scale SN because it's designed to extract dollars, not be all it can be. The BBS systems that were built on top of the telephone network, they began the SN revolution which we're now approaching. Unsurprisingly, not that many BBSs ever made much money... The rule is that the more free something is of economic constraint, the more likely it is to push the boundaries of SN.

Internet, reasonable network speeds, and then the revolutions like IRC, ICQ, Messengere, Jeff Pulver's first voice messenger and the SIP phone and VoIP, they are creating new SN's every day, as someone else comes up with yet another application for the technology that no-one would have dreamed possible a few years back.

Quite a few years ago I was dreaming of an application that you could phone or access on the web, tell it what you were looking for, and get instructions to all locations in your locality where that item could be found. It fell down because voice recognition technology wasn't up to it, and to some degree it still isn't because I was aiming for a "voice library" of words and their meanings, and that meant that you could also use the technology to speak your request in one language, have it translated into speech in another language, and delivered to a recipient wherever the item you were looking for could be found.

The point is that four years ago I got blank stares and head-shakes, this year every second business has Automatic Voice Recognition voice menu systems installed, and next year those AVR's will be smart enough to understand multiple languages and adjust themselves accordingly. Technologies like web, machine translation, telephone services, and AVR are converging and the results are immediately seen. And these are applications that are designed to make money, so wait until this technology convergence is once again taken back to the open source community.

In the same way, the instant messenger and chat programs are evolving and being converged with various networks now, and pretty soon there will be a new bunch of killer apps for SN that will blindside most of us. One mashup that springs immediately to mind is to converge Twitter and Pownce - I have the same username on both, and while I like the ability to send files and events that Pownce has I find that lack of a mobile interface is restrictive after the freedom I had with Twitter to roam the streets and keep in touch with my SN.

Different applications are aimed at different target demographics. Sometimes you're in demographic A, sometimes in demographic L. And in the same way, there won't be a "Jaiku killer" or a "Twitter killer" or a "Pownce killer" app out there, there will be apps to suit different needs, and there will be mashups between those.

The point is that social networking is a very human thing, other species are social and gregarious but only we go around creating tools to help us collaborate and network.

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