Social Software is Bigger than Search

"Social Software is Bigger than Search" is something we say around the office a lot when discussing Tendenci.  So I really liked this quote sourced from  Bubble Generation (via Eric "Mr. Snarky" Rice)

Web 2.0 cannot live up to its (enormous) potential to create value that’s
structurally disruptive until and unless technologists understand consumer

Web 2.0 can’t live up to its game-changing potential until and
unless the geeks step outside and think outside their own box of geekery.

and later in the post

…why are these issues so difficult for the geeks to grapple with?

answer: because for geeks, marketing, branding, advertising, etc are eeeeevil.

A long time ago I met with a VC on a different project and everything went great.  Until the question of "how are you going to market the product" and my answer was (seriously) "I am going to hire a marketing manager."  Straight faced.  I said that.  For the record – that is officially the WRONG ANSWER.

So ironically if you read the bubble generation post, it was a question by a VC that led me to focus on marketing first.  To obsess on the client’s success.  Using technology yes, but the tech serves the marketing and the sociology.  And the truth is after a while programming isn’t so tough and humans remain interestingly complex creatures worthy of study. So it all works. Sort of.

Bradley Horowitz on Authorship – 10%?

Via this post on apophenia, she points us to Bradley Horowitz on authorship.  Technically it is on stages of participation. The point that jumps out at me is:

Bradleyhorowitzpyramid The levels in the pyramid represent phases of value creation.  As an example take Yahoo! Groups.

  • 1% of the user population might start a group (or a thread within a group)
  • 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress
  • 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups (lurkers)

It goes on to point out:

Mostly this is just an observation, and a simple statement:  social software sites don’t require 100% active participation to generate great value.

And I agree with him that 100% participation is not a realistic goal, and even our focus on distributed authoring is perhaps pie in the sky.  Facts for us don’t point to 10% real authorship so far.  It would be interesting to see the real data from Yahoo! Groups!

The Dumpster interactive online visualization

The Dumpster, a blatant repost from Doc, yet still must at a minimum be in my collection of back links.  From the site:

Thedumpster The Dumpster is an interactive online visualization that attempts to depict a slice through the romantic lives of American teenagers. … The project’s graphical tools reveal the astonishing similarities, unique differences, and underlying patterns of these failed relationships, providing both peculiarly analytic and sympathetically intimate perspectives onto the diversity of global romantic pain.


From a visualization and ethnography perspective it is worthy of recording.  It would be like if Flash had never experienced Joshua Davis as a leader.  Yet like much of Joshua’s work, there is something missing. It is cool, but what did we LEARN?  Is it in any way predictive?  Interfaces are great, but can we load up our friendly neighborhood neural net and get cranking away on what the opportunties are for the team next week!?!

NetSquared San Francisco Trip

Sfnetsquaredfeb2006_2Walked into the NetSquared meeting in San Francisco with Katie (I work with Katie) last Wednesday and two of the first people we met were Marnie Webb and Billy Bickett of Compumentor.  This after being greeted by Britt Bravo and several interesting conversations with Rachel Weidinger. Great first impression of NetSquared

It is very unusual for me to talk about social factors and technology together and not have people immediately glaze over (I guess I am just that exciting).  And here we have 50 plus people actually INTERESTED in the technology and organizations!  The west coast really is weird. <grin>

The one funny part was everyone kept asking "you flew all the way out here for this?!?" (the answer is YES)

The first Netsquared presentor was Mena Trott of Six Apart.  Mena made some interesting points on the state of social software from experiences at Six Apart.  The progression from Publishing to Communication to Community in particular I liked.

Edmenasethkatie_1Another interesting point from Mena is the observation that the average person on LiveJournal has six (6) friends (see "The Magic Number is 6 by Marnie).  I find six people to a group surprising.  Much of our focus on distributed authoring is based on the theoretical limit of 150 close friends.  Dunbar’s Number is explained on wikipedia as:

In a 1993 article, Dunbar used the correlation observed for non-human primates to predict a social group size for humans. Using a regression equation on data for 36 primate genera, Dunbar predicted a human "mean group size" of 147.8 (casually represented as 150), a result he considered exploratory due to the large error measure (a 95% confidence interval of 100 to 230).

Very interesting…. so much for the monkeysphere.  OK, I’m still not sold that 150 isn’t relevant, but the number 6 as the number of friends in a group is very interesting and worthy of much thought.

Seth Mazow of Interplast talked about the challenges of starting the Interplast blog.  From organizational limitations (no marketing budget!) to communication challenges and ease of use (reverse chronological vs chronological).  Hopefully someone recorded his comments. 

You can’t look at the images on the Interplast blog and not feel for those folks.  Hopefully I will find a way to help through link love from our medical web design clients.

Netsquared2Back to NetSquared.  There are a ton of organizations on the web trying to help non-profit organizations.  From software companies focusing just on donation software or big software companies offering academic and non-profit pricing.  Yet I know Tendenci with our realistic non-profit pricing is relevant and different.  We do not offer it for free.  We can’t until Dell donates all of their servers and all of our employees start working for free.  Nor does Compumentor pay their 100 plus employees with just good wishes.  So the NetSquared group strikes me as pragmatic folk, but realistic.  I like that. 

So after talking to Gina Cardazone I took the plunge and started the Houston Netsquared Meetup GroupNow to get some help!  Gina – if you are reading this expect a phone call on Monday!

NetSquared Meetup in San Francisco with Mena Trott and Seth Mazow

NetsquaredHeaded to San Francisco for the NetSquared Meetup tomorrow evening with Mena Trott of Typepad and Seth Mazow of Interplast blogs.

From the Netsquared site:

Today, we recognize a turning point in nonprofit technology adoption. Through the immense possibilities of the Internet, nonprofits can turn hundreds of supporters into thousands, access new reserves of volunteerism, and give their constituencies tools to take charge of change.

This site is the online home of our effort to highlight projects around the world that succeed at the intersection of pervasive access, new tools, and new audiences. (more)

OK, so it reads a bit fluffy and Web 2.0 ish, but given the number of non-profit organizations and associations who use Tendenci (our software), the NetSquared group is definitely something I am interested in learning from.  Hopefully I will encounter a group of like minded people, although perhaps a bit less obsessed with visualization and PR.

Geometry and the Munduruk̼ РAnthropology and Geometric Understanding

A very timely post in Slashdot on geometry and visualization today.  It relates to an anthropology study on the human interpretation of visual information through geometry.  It is timely because at the end of January Edward Tufte is presenting in Houston this month and I hope to attend! 

More on the article on geometry and the Mundurukú people.

Munduruku_geometryWe’re hard-wired for geometry (By Daniel B. Kane)
Tests with Amazon villagers hint at innate geometrical sense

WASHINGTON – Even if you never learned the difference between a triangle, a rectangle and a trapezoid, and you never used a ruler, a compass or a map, you would still do well on some basic geometry tests, according to a new study.

Using a series of nonverbal tests, scientists claim to have uncovered core knowledge of geometry in villagers from a remote region of the Amazon who have little schooling or experience with maps and speak a language without the mathematical language of geometry.


the authors of the new study conclude that they have uncovered evidence for a basic understanding of geometry among people without much formal education. Future research may clarify if humans are born with these intuitions or if we acquire them early in life.

We spend a great deal of energy and time with Tendenci reporting trying to create visualization of Munduruku_rightangle the actions taking place on the site to communicate back to the organizations.  Beyond basic network diagrams which are still best assembled by hand, it is a frustrating process.  Not to create the chart, but to create a chart that is easily comprehended. And it is far more complex than visualization of explicit social network connections

I like the visualization discussion at the bottom of this post regarding implicit networks as opposed to explicit networks.  That is a post for another day.

Security, and Therefore Privacy, Remain Social Software Job 1!

John Battelle has an interesting post that emphasizes Security in Social Software 101.

BattellesearchbookFrom Battelle’s Search Book:

That bargain is this: we trust you to not do evil things with our information. We trust that you will keep it secure, free from unlawful government or private search and seizure, and under our control at all times. We understand that you might use our data in aggregate to provide us better and more useful services, but we trust that you will not identify individuals personally through our data, nor use our personal data in a manner that would violate our own sense of privacy and freedom.

That’s a pretty large helping of trust we’re asking companies to ladle onto their corporate plate.

Privacy and security is a complex subject.  I would venture, as someone who has gone through a bunch of software license negotiations, that most of the evil comes from clients.  Yes seriously. The vast majority of clients are ethical, but I have heard every request from prospects including "can you automatically make a copy of every inbound and outbound email of xyz person without their knowing" to "I want to install a keystroke logger on the IT managers PC. Can you help me?" and the old standby of "Y’all are great at SEO!  Do you do porn sites? (NO!)"

PiranahsMore recently we sent a fair license agreement to a prospect and they had it reviewed by some piranah lawyer who sent it back with carefully articulate points that basically suggested we just sign over rights to our own heartbeat to them now.  We refused to do business with them.

There are, perhaps, legitimate national security reasons to request data.  Yet Battelle’s point is "we trust you to not do evil things with our information." Evil is of course difficult to define, particularly when it comes to social software which is itself difficult to define.  Interestingly I find myself saying "you can’t define evil when it comes to social software but I know it when I see it."  Go figure.

Social-networking-aware Ruby on Rails

Announcing! "Social-networking-aware Ruby on Rails decentralized search web-app that leverages the destabilization of the music industry."

OK, that makes no sense.  Which is the point behind .

Web20validatorodiousplanSo I was curious just how Web 2.0 was, so of course I had to run the Web 2.0 validator on it.  And the results are:

"The score for is 6 out of 41"

Not very web2.0 guys!  Of course I have yet to see a site that properly validates so perhaps that is just a bunch of…shaell we say … Remixable mobile filtered voice service that leverages the destabilization of the music industry.

Beyond Blackcomb: Microsoft Research on Social Software – This One Has Potential

I previously posted on Snarf, Social Network and Relationship Finder.  Tested it.  After testing, I didn’t see the value and uninstalled it today.  Maybe Narf is a good solution for someone, but not for me.  Strike one.

So back doing research I saw this one on the Microsoft research site and I am intrigued by the potential of "Beyond Blackcomb".  No beta, no install, but something to keep an eye on down the road.

Beyond_blackcombBeyond Blackcomb: Storyboards of future computing experience

These storyboards explore using simple forms to spatially display items on the desktop. Important people, conversations, documents and web pages are easy to find, and related items are appear based on the context of the user.

Social Software Visualization Continued – Japanese Stock Market Visualizer

JapanesestockmarketvisualizerThis image is a continuation of a somewhat obsession with visualization of social interactions.  In this case; brutal free markets in action in the form of the Japanese stock market. 

I included in the screen shots images from the we-make-money-not-art web site because they too are using weighted lists and different visualization methods to compress three dimensional concepts effectively into small spaces.

I was also linked today this "animusic" site which uses computers to animate music with creative elements like pogo sticks playing instruments.  Somehow it almost works.

Animusic2pogostickwide Visit for more on music visualization.

Upcoming PRSA SWDC New Technologies Panel

More upcoming public speaking stuff on Public Relations and Technology.  I have been asked to join a panel with the PRSA Southwest District Conference Friday, March 3 from 9:00 am – 10:15 am.  The session I am on is:

“Trends in Public Relations Technology: Harnessing the Chaos to Encourage Collaboration and Engagement“

Scott Baradell
President, Idea Grove and his blog Media Orchard
Richardson, TX
"How to Integrate Blogs into Your Communications Program without Scaring the CEO"

Jennifer Peper
Vice President,, Inc.
Little Rock, AR
"Effective Techniques for Maximizing Public Relations through the Web"

Ed Schipul
CEO, Schipul – The Web Marketing Company (me!) and this blog
Houston, TX
"Trends in Public Relations Technology: Harnessing the Chaos to Encourage Collaboration and Engagement"

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.

Manicures, Buggers, and Public Relations

My 14 year old daughter and my wife recently returned from a trip to NYC complete with manicures.  This led my oldest son, 12, to ask what a manicure was ““ men are not born with this knowledge you see…  I paused, and given you just don’t get these opportunities very often; I replied “a manicure is when women go to get the buggers taken out from underneath their finger nails.“

Jordan’s response (my daughter) was fast and immediate.  “Ewwww!  I use a tissue!“

“So you never pick your nose with your finger?  Really?“

OK, here is the point.  Ease of use changes behavior.  Again, let me emphasize that, ease of use changes behavior.  And that matters for your public relations strategy formulation.

Ease of Use Changes Behavior ““ The Case for PR Practitioners to Adopt New Technology NOW

Social vs Attention networks, fans, and graphing Tools

First a great post on apophenia about the problems with "friend" connections in social networks and the definition of fan.  I agree, anyone can be a fan and perhaps even a silent fan.

Attention Networks vs. Social Networks

Network analysts often speak about (un)directed graphs. In essence, this refers to whether or not someone you know knows you. If reciprocity is required by the system, it’s an undirected graph. The vast majority of online social networking tools assume that users are modeling friendship and thus if you’re friends with someone, they better damn well be friends with you. As such, they use undirected graphs and you are required to confirm that they are indeed your friend.

Well, what about fandom? Orkut actually put the concept of fan into their system, but in order to be someone’s fan, you had to be their friend first. Baroo?


Of course, the computation needed for directed graphs is much greater than for undirected graphs. Is that the main reason that most services require reciprocity? Even when it’s not the best mechanism for the system? Or are there other reasons why folks are obsessed with undirected graphs?

Regarding Danah’s post I wish she mentioned the rival problem in social networks.  How do you measure your relation to a rival?  Certainly not by inviting them to be a friend, rather you probably function as a stalker (flickr would have this data, repeat views of a non-friend when sets have a high duplication percent…)

Second is a rehash of some interesting graphing tools:

Softmaint Google Graphing Directory
Graphiz  (image to the left is from graphiz gallery)

None of which I have time to mess with right now.  Writing on public relations, OPML files and social interaction in the software are taking the majority of time currently.  Soon though, very soon.

Tag Clouds Run Amuk and Debate on Use of Weighted Lists

UnilateraltagcloudWe recently started testing Weighted Lists in Tendenci.  My goodness you would think this was a large update based on the disproportionate feedback on the one (1) page we implemented the cloud on.  Sometimes folks lack a sense of humor, but we are here to serve and interpret.

It didn’t help that we had a bug in the calculation creating an off-by-one error for sites with just one category.  Hence the image on the left.  Computers are funny things.

So on the topic of weighted lists I found myself reading this Zeldman post on usability called "Remove Forebrain and Serve: Tag Clouds II"  The premise is that weighted lists are the new mullets, but he goes on to point out that his major issue with tag clouds is the ontology eliminates from view categories that don’t make the cut.  So Detroit might not be an item, but 8 Mile qualifies.  Specifically here are two excerpts:

We who make websites must strike a fine balance between guiding our users and allowing them to lead us. We listen but we also synthesize and invent. We conduct user research but we interpret the results. We ask what users want but we decide what they are really telling us “” and we, not they, determine how best to fulfill the needs they didn’t necessarily realize they were articulating.


Instead of relying on humans to mine the data every three months and have long tedious arguments about how to update the navigation, let’s allow software to do it in real time, based on actual user behavior. Let the process create the music. There is merit to this view, especially on the community sites from which it sprang. (There is no merit to it on single-author sites, where one person creates all the content and all the tags. If you don’t have a clear purpose for your site, who does?)

It is for this reason that I think weighted lists ARE a good idea for social software.  Because the most active sites are ones with distributed authors.  Many people contributing towards the same goal, and making sense of that cacophony.

SNARF, the Social Network and Relationship Finder – from Microsoft

Snarf_front_1Microsoft has released SNARF, the Social Network and Relationship Finder.   I found it via Sunbelt Software.  From the SNARF site:

Microsoft Research’s Community Technology presents SNARF, the Social Network and Relationship Finder.

SNARF was built around the notion that social network information that is already available to the computer system can be usefully reflected to the user: a message from a manager might be seen differently than a message from a stranger, for example. SNARF applies this idea to email triage: handling the flow of messages when time is short and mail is long.

Wikipedia liars – this is a social software flame war with a KNOWN solution

FlameIt is nice to run into a problem where the solution is known and easy to implement.  It is frustrating to watch others not taking the obvious steps and instead choose to relearn lessons from history.  Jimmy Whales of Wikipedia needs to stop looking at this as a religion but rather as a social trust of information that must be protected to ENSURE free speech, not to block free speech.

The NYT is running an article called "Rewriting History: Snared in the Web of a Wikipedia Liar" about someone making up some random stuff about a retired newspaper editor.  It was an edit on his bio page that was clearly random and wrong, posted by an anonymous user.  Easy to fix, and it has been fixed.  Read the article for more, my post is on the fact that allowing truly anonymous editors is not sustainable for popular social software.  Shirky wrote about this:

Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software – Clay Shirky

<snip> Yet despite three decades of descriptions of flaming, it is often treated by designers as a mere side-effect, as if each eruption of a caps-lock-on argument was surprising or inexplicable.

Flame wars are not surprising; they are one of the most reliable features of mailing list practice. If you assume a piece of software is for what it does, rather than what its designer’s stated goals were, then mailing list software is, among other things, a tool for creating and sustaining heated argument. </snip>

From the NYT article here is Mr. Whales’ plan of action:

"We have constant problems where we have people who are trying to repeatedly abuse our sites," he said.

Still, he said, he was trying to make Wikipedia less vulnerable to tampering. He said he was starting a review mechanism by which readers and experts could rate the value of various articles. The reviews, which he said he expected to start in January, would show the site’s strengths and weaknesses and perhaps reveal patterns to help them address the problems.

In addition, he said, Wikipedia may start blocking unregistered users from creating new pages, though they would still be able to edit them.

The real problem, he said, was the volume of new material coming in; it is so overwhelming that screeners cannot keep up with it.

This won’t work.  Clay Shirky said it best in this hilarious segment from the article above:

And for roughly thirty years, almost any description of mailing lists of any length has mentioned flaming, the tendency of list members to forgo standards of public decorum when attempting to communicate with some ignorant moron whose to stupid to know how too spell and deserves to DIE, die a PAINFUL DEATH, you PINKO SCUMBAG!!!

Yet despite three decades of descriptions of flaming, it is often treated by designers as a mere side-effect, as if each eruption of a caps-lock-on argument was surprising or inexplicable.

In short, you have to have some level of public exposure to stand behind your words or there are problems in society and in social software.  Requiring registration to edit is minor, easy, doesn’t even prevent the entire problem but does create some friction.  The best editors ARE registered because they want credit for their contributions.  So the bad edits are anonymous.  Why isn’t this solution put in place?  Duh.

Note that four of the five top wikipedia editors are bots.  They apparently log in to the system.

Rank User Bot? Total Edits Edits in the past 30 days
1 Rambot bot 131511 0
2 D6 bot 86832 531
3 Pearle bot 69497 2316
4 SimonP 67849 4398
5 Bluebot bot 67621 60889

In closing, you have a social software application, wikipedia.  It has an accuracy and flame problem.  There is a known solution to the flame problems of social software.  The problem is exacerbated by the ease of scripting edits on wikipedia as evidenced by the four of the top 5 editors being bots.  And they need to require login to solve the problem.

Unless Jimmy knows all of this and is just doing it for the public relations value of getting press coverage.  Nah, he wouldn’t do that.

More Social Software Visualization

YvonneUnrealArt is artwork based on gameplay in Unreal Tournament. 

All artworks have been created using data from the game "Unreal Tournament".

Each image represents about 30 mins of gameplay in which the computers AI plays against itself, there are 20-25 bots playing each game.

The Bots play custom maps I create. Each map has been pathed so that the bots have a rough idea of where to go in order to create the image I want.

While this is architecturally / location based, graphically it is compelling if manipulated (e.g. "Each map has been pathed so that the bots have a rough idea of where to go in order to create the image I want").  It is art after all.  The related blog is here.

On social software visualization, if activities, or attention, are tracked as locations (again, perhaps manipulated to get the desired result) this method could be used to visualize social software activity.  But not interaction like vizster.

GM to use OnStar for Social Software Integration – still pending

GmonstaremailI previously posted on General Motors and how I think they should use some of the OnStar data in a social software capacity.  Yes we can GET data, the question is can the group of humans share that data in a meaningful way.  The good news is per the advertisement to the left GM is now offering to email a summary of your data.  This is smart and good for the brand.

Specifically what I would like to see added from a social software data perspective is:

  1. Let people indicate if they want to share their mileage data
  2. For the people who specifically choose to share their data, open it up to the world so it looks something like this tag view from Technorati, except ranked by mileage.   (note the highest rank is at the top – then ask why)
  3. Consider opening the OnStar up as a licensed service to other manufacturers.  Go honestly toe-to-toe on improving gas mileageProgressive does this with insurance telling you even if they are NOT the lowest cost, which makes me think all sorts of warm-fuzzies about the Progressive brand. is NOT web 2.0 compliant, but neither is Google Maps or

Web20flickrevalHaving lived through the dot-com-dot-bomb with great consternation and angst ("should I pitch VC and sell my soul?") I have found a few of those similar feelings recently regarding the hype about web 2.0.  So finally someone answered my questions by providing a validator. 

Being the inquiring soul that I am, the first site that I just HAD to validate was flickr.  Here are the results for a web 2.0 validation of

The score for is 3 out of 18

  • Is in public beta?  No
  • Uses the prefix "meta" or "micro"?  No
  • Is Shadows-aware ?  No
  • Uses Cascading Style Sheets?  Yes!
  • Refers to mash-ups ?  No
  • Appears to be web 3.0 ?  Yes!
  • Attempts to be XHTML Strict ?  No
  • Uses Google Maps API?  No
  • Appears to use AJAX ?  No
  • Appears to be built using Ruby on Rails ?  No
  • Refers to Flickr ?  Yes!
  • Refers to VCs ?  No
  • Mentions Cool Words ?  No
  • Has prototype.js ?  No
  • Refers to web2.0validator ?  No
  • Mentions RDF and the Semantic Web?  No
  • Uses microformats ?  No
  • Actually mentions Web 2.0 ?  No

So there you have it folks (<grin>) is NOT web 2.0 compliant.  Now to test  3 out of 20 with these being the three "yes" votes.

  • Uses Cascading Style Sheets?  Yes!
  • Uses the prefix "meta" or "micro"?  Yes!
  • Appears to be web 3.0 ?  Yes! scored 1 out of 20, so clearly I need to get with the team to add a few more 2.0 references.  Hee hee.

For more angst on the difference between social software and web 2.0 please click that link.