Alex Wright

social networks - believing the hype

August 23, 2002

There's been no shortage of high-minded blather lately about social networks as being the new new thing in the software world. Rick Rashid talked about Microsoft's vision for a at ETCON; Peter Morville, Peter Merholz, Howard Rheingold and other smart folks have also been writing along these lines lately. All this grand theorizing is, of course, running at least several paces ahead of reality, but I've been pleasantly surprised to discover a few actual, working examples of real software projects out there that seem to validate at least some of the hype.

I've been doing a lot of digging along these lines lately in light of a new software project, so when Matt Jones put out a call for examples recently, I was happy to oblige with a few bookmarks:

MIT Sociable Media Group -Assorted prototypes for social network visualization, lots of whizzy Muriel Cooper-ish 3D fly-through demos

IBM Babble - IM-meets-groupware in a collaborative IM client (sort of)

AT&T ContactMap - A social network contact manager prototype, developed by Bonnie Nardi and co.

Six Degrees - A companion app for MS Outlook that lets you contextualize your mail around social interactions rather than just chronological message-handling. it's the germ of an interesting idea, though i think they could have pushed this quite a bit further.

Microsoft Social Computing group

Tangentially related, I think, are groupware applications - Groove, Intraspect, Notes, eRoom, and assorted also-rans. here's a list of open-source and commercial groupware applications

Lots of interesting tinkering going on out there, but none of it nearly resembling a Next Big Thing just yet. So who's going to develop the killer social network application? Beats me, but I certainly wouldn't bet against Microsoft, especially in light of their funding partnership with Groove. It will be interesting to see if they can find a way to expand on the unfulfilled promise of groupware and evolve towards an environment structured less around proscriptive user tasks and more around the explicit and implicit relationships between individuals, groups, and all of our pseudonymous selves.

File under: User Experience

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