Sunday, November 27, 2011

Facebook And The Evolution Of Social Software

Over on a private group(!) on Facebook, I found myself writing this  :
On the whole, I'm optimistic about "social software" and its capacity to put our cognitive surplus to good use. We still have Wikipedia and Quora and Instructables etc. 
But I think something has changed over the last couple of years. Previously, social software companies were trying to make tools for their users, and advertising was just their funding model. 
Twitter, Google etc. are basically geek companies making things that geeks thought were cool. 
Facebook's - or Zuckerberg's, not sure which - genius is to be a great "learning organisation". It's very fast to pick up and apply good ideas from elsewhere. 
What Facebook has learned over the last few years (from Blackberry, Twitter and Zynga) is how to make the most addictive feed possible for the greatest number of people. 
I don't believe anyone at Facebook ever said "let's make people more passive and stupid". But I do believe that they said, "how can we simplify this so that even the passive and stupid people sign up?" (Which is almost as pessimistically cynical.) 
What they produced was social software that acted like TV. A non-stop stream of gripping events, that are all about surprise, excitement and emotional shocks. (In this sense, the "good" political propaganda from, say, the Occupy movement is no different from TV's symbiosis with the radical movements of the 1960s) 
Instead of putting the cognitive surplus to good use, Facebook just harnesses everyone's surplus to make the wall even more compelling. So that you keep coming back in case anyone you ever knew in your life might have wanted to say something to you or share a picture or a video. 
Google+, while an improvement in some ways, is Google's belated realisation that this is the new reality of social software. Now the weird geek tools (Wave) and me too efforts (Buzz) are being put to rest, and Google is trying to build it's own ultra-compelling feed.

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