Social Software Meets the Head Lemur
Some are saying it's all hype, but GlobeAlive is as social as software gets, and we're doing it, so I can say that much. Since I'm not a programmer, I can only talk about it, and listen to other people, and work on GlobeAlive's place in the social software alliance. The Head Lemur gets into it here
Can it Happen?
I wonder if it's going to happen. Doc talks a great deal about the possibilities of a digital ID infrastructure with concentric layers of accessibility whereby our basic information, our likes and dislikes as both consumers and social beings, is carried with us wherever we go on the net, and oneday the world in general. First, it would allow for single sign-in to all participating sites on the web, and (up to the point we chose to let them) companies would know who we were and what we wanted without having to ask. And so would other people if the idea spread into interactions with individuals on the web, ie GlobeAlive. Eric Norlin is all over this space. There's a lot of skepticism and the words not out yet, but Eric makes strong arguments for suspending disbelief that it's a real possibility. Digital ID clearly has tie-ins with the social software alliance as well.
Summing Up My Sentiments
Dave Weinberger accurately sums up my sentiments regarding the social software alliance BoF at the ETCon here. I blogged along the same lines on Friday I believe, that despite not being able to put my finger on why, the social software BoF was the most exciting hour or two at the conference for me. There's nothing we can sink our teeth into yet, but it's clear that something's brewing in the minds of a lot of very capable and ambitious people who want to change things.
My own two cents is that the web was made for documents, but its importance as a social medium is outstripping that original intent. I founded GlobeAlive because I didn't want websites, I wanted people, and there was no browser or search engine for finding people, no infrastructure that did for finding and interacting with people what the web had done for finding and interacting with documents. Here's some of Dave:
A small brouhaha is brewhaha-ing over whether "social software" is mere hype. (See Frank Paynter, for example.) After all, the category is about as broad as "software for people" and includes technology as old as holding hands.
And yet it's the thing I came away from the O'Reilly Conference most excited about.
First, I consider social software actually to be emergent social software. That narrows the field to software that enables groups to form and organize themselves. Yes, it's still broad but at least it's not coextensive with any software that has a user interface.
Second, it doesn't much matter to me whether the software is new or old. I'm excited about the fact that that type of software is now being recognized (i.e., "hyped") as important. And my question is: Given that most of the software is old, why is this category now becoming hot?
Sure, in part it's because consultants (like, um, me) and writers (like, um um, me) now have something new to flap their gums about. But, more important, I think and hope it's because the central idea behind emergent social software is now becoming acceptable: We're beginning to think that letting groups start without rules, letting people organize themselves as they see fit at the moment and in that context, is actually a good idea and not just a waste of time, a hippy dream, or a threat. Gosh, maybe a wiki isn't only an invitation to vandals but is a useful way for people to collaborate! But to think so means trusting groups of people to work well together even when their choke collars are undone.
Britt on Doc on Mystery Man on Markets
Britt Blaser, the man behind XpertWeb, talks about the evolution of the Western understanding of markets as transactions, the old school mentality, to markets are conversations, the ClueTrain thesis, to markets are relationships, the epiphany Doc had when meeting the mystery man (can't remember the guy's name) on a plane after ClueTrain came out. Here's Britt:
Then the Internet clued us that the market is a conversation and money is just the punch line.
Doc reports that, soon after the ink dried, the Clue Trainers started hearing from people whose cultures had not lost the art of transactional conversation. They pointed out that real markets are more than conversations, they're relationships, crafted one conversation at a time, often over decades and generations.
Alan Kay Has 4D Vision
Lisa Rein talks about the Alan Kay keynote at the ETCon. I was in the back, so I could see both of the big screens. One showed the 3D environment from Alice's point of view (as in Alice in Wonderland) and the other from the Hare's point of view, and they were walking through the links and interacting and each web page was a 3D world and we were all gaping at the possibilities. I was, anyway. Feasible? I don't know enough to know. He sure made it sound as if it was.
Seinfeld at GlobeAlive (Almost)
Mark Carey, one of our most active new experts, 111 sessions in his first week, is a Seinfeld expert. He knows all the episodes. I tried to think of the most obscure episode I could, but he still got it. Despite our beta status, which brings in a horde of irrelevant traffic, he's having some solid sessions. Here he talks about what could happen if GlobeAlive takes off. I find his text-to-speech-to-mobile phone idea rather ingenious:
Ever since I signed up last week, I have been think about the concept of GlobeAlive, and I have been getting more and more excited. The combination of search and chat is a powerful one. The ability to search the Internet for information and be able to immediately communicate synchronously with experts in the field, who may be located half way around the world, could the "community" of the Internet to new levels. The power I see is not just in getting valuable, expert information relating to you search query, but in the communications that will begin to occur in the process. Imagine the people you will meet! Most Internet users don't have (good) reasons to meet people online - but everyone uses search. It enriches the the search process greatly when you are meeting people along the way. When I think about GlobeAlive, I see a person - in the not-too-distant future - entering a search on a computer. On the other side of the world, a mobile phone rings and is answered. The searchers question is played to the expert using Text-to-Speech technology, and the expert answers by voice. The world really is becoming smaller! I also see the possibility of the world's first peer-to-peer search engine, comprised of millions of connected users, answering each others search queries, the way they trade MP3s today -- and meeting people every step of the way...
Bernstein Gets it Right
Got an email from Michael Bernstein this week. His informal analysis of the current shortcomings of GlobeAlive makes perfect sense to me and is right in line with what Kaolin and I are proposing. Kaolin blogged about similar ideas here. The main difference is the web of trust addition, but my guess is Michael will support that. We'll have to see. Here's what Michael had to say:
What I was suggesting was not a complete elimination of GA as an
intermediary, as GA can still provide very valuable (perhaps essential)
For users the value add would be anonymity. So, I would suggest that the
user chat client (primitive though it is) be retained, with only minor
The user chat client connects to the GA chat proxy, which *behind the
scenes* connects to the expert using the preferred
protocol/service/account. The expert sees the chat session appear in
their usual chat client, be it AIM, ICQ, MSN or Jabber. The key here is
that the chat proxy is on the GA servers, not the user's desktop.
Importantly, the user *does not* see the expert contact info, just a
handle in the GA chat window.
So, the GA service provides the user with anonymity from the participants.
The participant, meanwhile can continue to use their preferred chat
software without having to download and install the GA desktop client.
Now, participants want to be rated honestly, and complete user anonymity
works against this (or so it seems at first). While the user conceivably
values anonymity from participants, pseudonymity from GA is most likely
all that is needed in most cases, so requiring a pseudonymous login by
the user in order to *rate* participants (or, as we discussed earlier,
to give their ratings more 'weight') would likely not be too onerous, as
long as the completely anonymous option still exists.
As another incentive for users to register, you could give participants
some more discretion over accepting user requests. Making it possible
for participants to opt-out of interacting with completely anonymous
users (as opposed to pseudonymous users) would be one future
possibility, but there are others.
The basic idea should be not to *require* registration of users, but
only to make it advantageous to do so, after they've had a chance to try
out the service for however long they like.
One further note. You said in your weblog: "[...]once the user and
expert/participant connect, they no longer need GA and will bypass the
engine in the future."
This is true. There is nothing you can do about this no matter what.
Don't fight it, or try to put in place measures that make this more
difficult, or you will only end up shooting yourself in the foot. Again
in comparison to Google, they didn't get to be the #1 search engine by
embracing a walled garden approach.
If a particular user/participant pair takes their relationship
'offline', Then to a certain extent, GA *has done it's job*.
However, participants already have a natural incentive to continue to
use GA (they want more good ratings), and users have an incentive as
well, (continued access to a deep pool of experts). Just because their
particular relationship is no longer being mediated by GA, does *not*
mean that they each don't still have a relationship with GA.