power law I wrote a high-level spec recently for Social Networking Enablement (my term for the successor to Knowledge Management) and Social Software. The guru of Social Software, Clay Shirky, spoke to the O’Reilly Emerging Technology conference in April and has just posted his speech. If you’re interested in the subject, go read it .

Most important point, for those readers whose attention span is limited to five paragraphs, is Shirky’s four critical design elements for Social Software:

  1. Recognize Identity and Reputation — the group needs to know who its members are
  2. Acknowledge Standing and Provide Recognition — knowing who knows what is a critical requirement for the group to be able to function, and recognition is essential to their willingness to do so
  3. Provide Barriers to Participation — manageable, efficient conversation requires different levels of increasingly elite membership, otherwise it’s like giving everyone in the audience equal time during a presidential debate; the barriers also convey privilege and demand for others to ‘get in’, which is healthy for the group’s sense of self-value
  4. Spare the Group from Scale — just as you may have 1000 acquaintences, 150 friends, 30 close friends and 3 intimate friends, social software needs to accommodate great facility for intimates to converse, and more modest facility for conversations with those less close, to be optimal, and to avoid size destroying the elements that make the community what it is

Some other concepts he describes which I find important and appealing:

  • The need to provide for soft overlap (Gladwell’s connectors ?) between groups to allow ideas to cross boundaries
  • The importance of clustering mechanisms, the ‘pattern recognition’ of social software
  • The need for ‘conversational artifacts’, the critical synopsis of ideas, actions, consensus, decisions and issues that is so often missing from meetings and other social interactions today
  • The delightful advice to business owners and managers that users are there for one another, not for the sponsor/owner/facilitator/manager of the group; in other words, as I’ve always advised other managers, articulate the goals, roles and processes of the group and its members, and then get out of the way

Clay’s thinking is way ahead of the curve, but look to the incorporation of his ideas as an excellent predictor of new social software’s success or failure, both in the business and citizen peer-to-peer social realms.

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  1. Marie Foster says:

    Sometimes I feel so old. I have been reading your commentaries about Social Software. I guess as an ex-social worker I have a disconnect between my world view of the word social and how you are meaning it.But the one thing that is most strange to me is your contention that to be good it has to provide barriers to participation. *scratching my head*

  2. Doug Alder says:

    I agree Marie. Clay comes across there as an elitist. To me the social value of a conversation is increased directly proportionate to the number of people participating. Barriers to communication? bad idea.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Marie: The term ‘social software’ isn’t mine, and I agree it’s a bit oxymoronic. It generally refers to software that helps people connect with each other more efficiently or effectively.Marie/Doug: The argument for ‘barriers to participation’ is that they are akin to the screening of phone calls; if everyone can reach anyone anytime, the people with the knowledge and skills in greatest demand end up so busy taking calls they have no time left for anything else — barriers prevent them spreading themselves too thin. I’m ambivalent about this idea, and agree Clay can tend to sound elitist, but I think he has a point. I’ve been in meetings and conversations with too many people actively participating, so they almost become anarchic. I’ve also caught subject matter experts trying to keep so many people happy and informed that they end up neglecting the continuous learning of their craft and making mistakes because of it, costing them their reputation, and hence, everything.

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