Tom Coates — Directions in social change on the web

Tom Coates of Yahoo! UK gave an excellent presentation:

Below are a few things to remember. Make sure you check out the whole presentation/podcast once it becomes available (sorry for paraphrasing):

  • Topic of his speech: How people can interact to make something that’s greater than the sum of their parts.
  • Social successes: Sites that are harnessing collective intelligence are doing well.
  • People function better together than alone.
  • How can you use social software to build aggregate value? In a nutshell:
    • An individual should get value from their contribution (individual motives)
    • These contributions should provide value to their peers as well (social value)
    • The organization that hosts the service should derive aggregate value and be able to expose this back to the users (business/organizational value)
  • There are two ways you can go about doing these three things: Consensus (e.g. Wikipedia, ridiculously difficult and unlikley, hard to replicate) or polyphony (e.g. Flickr, works very well, supports infinite communities)
  • Motives: What drives users to participate?
    • Someone once said: “The only reason anyone does anything in the world is money, power and to win.”
    • Someone else once said: “There are only two reasons, and they are: To get laid, and to please Jesus.”
    • Peter Kollock, The economies of online cooperation: Anticipated reciprocity, reputation, sense of efficacy, and identification with a group
    • Various authors, Open Sources: Voices from the Open Source Revolution lists the following (in order of importance): 1. Learning to code 2. Gaining reputation 3. Scratching an itch 4. Contributing to the commons 5. Sticking it to Microsoft
  • Be wary of clumsy incentives like money, points & competition. You have to be able to reward the right kinds of activities. The problem with money and points is you often end up rewarding the wrong things (there are exceptions).
  • Richard Bartle, Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players who suit MUDs: Users may move between these types (i.e. socializing, discovery, combat etc.), and — at times — be more of one than the other, but if you’re lacking any one of these types in your community it can fall apart. You have to have a variety of users in social software to create something sustainable. If you reward only one group, the whole thing will fall apart (and you can’t reward without making the site generally less useful).
  • Expose metrics in many ways so people can be competitive in different arenas.
  • Open up social value: Expose every axis of data you can, give people a place to represent themselves, allow them to associate, connect and form relationships with one another, help them annotate, rate and comment, look for ways to expose this data back onto the site, make space navigable, allow for adding on top of that, aggregate data.
  • Be very careful of user expectations around how private or public their contribution is!
  • APIs are cool.
  • Be wary of creating monocultures or echo chambers.
  • Where’s the money?
    • Attention and advertising
    • Premium accounts
    • Building services around the data
    • Using user-generated annnotations and contribution to improve your other services

Overheard at The Future of Web Apps Summit, San Francisco, CA, September 13, 2006 (wiki).

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