Relay #70, Panel F

don't just know technology, understand it

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Social Web

We are all social creatures who take pleasure in the company of others. So much so in fact that isolation is many times used as a form of punishment.

For the most part the web has been a lonely place. It's just you, your monitor, a keyboard and mouse. Our inert need to interact however, inevitably surfaced. This drove the popularity of chatrooms and IM for many years. Now we have reached a turning point. A new level of interaction is taking over. One that though passive in nature, is proving to be more relevant, useful and integrated with our daily use of the web.

The social web is simple. It gives you the information you want based on the information those who came before you chose. It allows the filtering of information based on what others think of it. To maximize the relevance of this information, you simply filter based on those people you know and trust or those that share your interests.

If you're a Hi5 member, you've been using the social web. If you've used digg, or any other social bookmarking site, you're involved in it's growth.

If you hadn't totally grasped the concept before, I hope the examples above help cement the idea. If not, lets take a detailed look at one of them.

Hi5 is an extremely popular site for meeting and keeping in touch. Many use it to find old friends or schoolmates, but the general idea is to build a personal network of people.

The growth of your network is managed by a simple rule. To add a person to your group, or for you to be added to theirs, there has to be a mutual friend. To put it another way, for you to be my friend you have to be a friend of a friend.

This kind of filter ensures that only people you're likely to interact well with will fall into your network. If I like Kate and you like Kate, chances are I may like you. This is the social web version of online personals. Everything is filtered based on those who came before you.

The ramifications of this are far reaching, and there are both pros and cons. The positives are obvious of course; who doesn't want more relevance in the information they request? A human filter is probably the best way to get this and it's made better by the fact that those who have sifted through probably wanted the same information you want right now. Less time sorting and more time interacting.

On the other hand, this same scenario also presents the biggest problem with the social web; it limits your exposure. When all your content is filtered for you, there is the obvious risk that information that may be of some interest will be cast aside because it fell outside your predefined categories of interest. Be it a person, a news story or a cooking recipe, you'll be less the wiser because of it.

The social web had to happen. It's a natural progression and will only evolve further and incorporate more aspects of our web based lives. The net is growing up.