Social Software Improvements are Iterative – Individuals Just Ain’t That Smart

Technorati just release an update on their blog search results.  At first the update is very underwhelming.  Not the stuff of hero worship.  But below the surface there is real brilliance because the improvements were done iteratively and intelligently.  Quote:

These changes came after weeks of user feedback studies, learning by watching users and what they wanted and did on the site, and lots of tuning and tweaking of the infrastructure. We’re looking for your feedback and comments on the changes! Did we do a good job? Are things easier to use? Is your favorite vanity search more understandable? Does it have more data? What else do you want? 

Emphasis added by me: user feedback, watching users, wanted, did, tuning, tweaking – these are beautiful words in the world of social software.

The danger of designing software applications is the assumption that because I (the individual) think this way, so does the group.  What this logic overlooks is that individuals can make rational decisions that lead to an irrational resultGame theory and collective action have long documented this unexpected property of collective human behavior. 

Regardless, hats off to Technorati for not just doing what the customers asked, but for deeply understanding social behavior (vanity searches for example) and still using that information to improve.

Game Theory, The Nobel Prize and Social Software

First, congratulations to Nobel for seeing the importance of game theory in economics.  It DOES matter how people interact.  Even more so going forward given the new level of transparency provided by the Internet.  From the NYT article American and Israeli Share Nobel Prize in Economics by LOUIS UCHITELLE October 11, 2005:

The Nobel judges said that the work of Mr. Schelling and Mr. Aumann "was essential in developing noncooperative game theory further and bringing it to bear on major questions in the social sciences."

Game theory departs from mainstream economics, which assumes that people behave rationally and act independently of one another. Game theorists assume that in a given situation people are affected by what other people do or what they imagine others will do, particularly when their goals are conflicting.

Emphasis added by me.  The article goes on to talk about the novel "Red Alert" and how a doomsday device is NOT a deterrent if the other side doesn’t know you have it.

So all of this has me thinking about "Flame as performance art" (Shirky) and has me wondering about the overlap between game theory and social software.  Would negotiations with North Korea be different if we did not know their capabilities?  If their population had a voice to increase transparency?  The Iraq conflict continues to be discussed as far as who knew what when. Whether for or against it is safe to say that a game theory analysis of the conflict would be interesting.  I have no answers this AM, just questions.