Social websites and the theory of cumulative advantage (or the rich get richer effect)

Duncan Watts (author of Six Degrees) wrote an article in the New York Times about the rich get richer effect (via). He reports on a series of experiments on the web where they tracked the rise in popularity of music in different “parallel worlds” where participants could either see what others were doing (social influence condition) or not (individual conditon). Their main findings were that in the social influence condition (where participants could see what others were doing), the hits were much more popular (and unpopular songs more unpopular) than in the individual condition (where participants could not see what others were doing).

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Massively multiplayer online sharing?

I came across this article by Jeremy Liew about how game mechanics can be applied to social media. He was referring to how many of the principles of game design can apply to social sharing sites. For example, easy to learn, hard to master, collecting things, providing feedback etc. I have been talking about similar issues in my “Designing for Social Sharing” talk for a little while now. And like with him, I have been inspired by Amy Jo Kim’s work. Another inspiration has been Katrin Knorr’s Cetina’s work on object-centered sociality and its interpretation by Jyri Engeström.

After all, what are sites like YouTube or SlideShare, but places for massively-multiplayer sharing of digital objects like photos, slides or video, kind of like MMORPGS, but different. Now, if only we could come up with another equally awkward acronym for these sites? How about MMOS – Massively Multiplayer Online Sharing OR maybe MMOOS or Massively Multiplayer Online Object Sharing? Thats not nearly awakward enough! Anyone else want to have a go at an acronym? Share below.

Twitter and the intermingling of our streams of consciousness

I looked at my Twitter webpage yesterday and it occurred to me that I was seeing the streams of consciousness for several of my friends mixed together. Its somewhat strange, because a stream of concsiousness is such a personal thing. But inhibitions have droppped sufficiently, and technology has made it sufficiently easy that people post short updates about whatever is happening with them. And I do mean “whatever”. One person might be partying while the other is deciding what to eat and a third person is simply bored. And Twitter presents it as a linear stream organized by time.

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The social life of powerpoint

A few years before he wrote Blink, Malcolm Gladwell wrote an article about the social life of paper [Gladwell, 2002]. Published in the New Yorker, the article argued that paper enables a certain kind of cognitive thinking and social process. This is because paper has a set of affordances that facilitate such social and cognitive behavior. For example, paper is tangible – we can pick up a document and flip through it at our own pace. Bits of paper can be arranged spatially to mean something (e.g., the piles on my desk). Paper can be annotated. I recognize what Gladwell is saying on a personal level. My desk is full of piles that go away only to make way for other piles.

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Google calendar adds public events but does not get social!

Google calendar is one the few recent Google products that I love and use on a regular basis. It gets so many things right for an online calendar right – it lets you coordinate with colleagues, schedule events, check your calendar, anytime anywhere. The interface is efficient, letting one add and edit events easily. I have thought many times how Google calendar could weave a social events system like Upcoming system around it. After all, they have the basic ingredient for a great social system – a strong personal motivation for people to contribute. I tell Google calendar about my events since it helps me keep my life organized. It already knows about many of the events I am planning to go to. It knows about the people I invite to those events or who invite me to theirs. The social hooks already exist. It would be so easy to create a larger social arena around the information in my calendar that I am willing to make public.

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BayCHI panel on Designing systems with emergent behavior

baychi logoThere is an exciting panel at BayCHI tomorrow (Tues, Oct 10th) with a discussion about the design of sites with emergent behavior. How does the process of design/design research change (or does not change) in the case of sites like Facebook, MySpace and Yahoo Answers where you are designing not just the interaction of the system with the individual users, but also how users will interact with each other, the group at large. Such social systems display behavior which is not something that was “designed” in the traditional sense of the word. What role does the designer play for such systems? How can you anticipate what consequences a relatively minor change on the individual level will have on the group as a whole? For example, Facebook’s recent decision to offer a feed of all your friend’s actions on your front page. And other related issues…

Panelists are Tim Brown from Ideo; Peter Merholz from Adaptive Path and Larry Cornett from Yahoo.

I will be moderating the panel and will make sure there is plenty of time for questions. So come by to PARC, Palo Alto at 7.30 PM. If you want to let the world know that you will be there (and find out who else will be there), then go to Upcoming. Note, BayCHI events are free to open to the public.

Slideshare our new social app is on Techcrunch!

So its finally out – the other project that we (at Uzanto) have been working on. And its starting its life with being Techcrunched!

The process of sharing slides is broken. It goes from my hard drive to yours via email. Or if I put it online, its in a clunky format like pdf or Powerpoint that you need to download.

Slideshare solves that problem. It webifies your slides – it makes the experience of viewing them, sharing them with individuals or groups smooth and seamless. You can upload your slides from Powerpoint or OpenOffice (Keynote users will have to save in Powerpoint format for the time being) and Slideshare will render them like this here. You can tag, comment and most of all embed your presentations into your blog or website like this one below.

(Slideshare is still invite only. Add yourself to the invite list or ping me if you would like to take a peek or try uploading your own slides).

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The growing popularity of Orkut in India

I started noticing this a few months back when I started receiving notifications from friends / cousins about Orkut scrapbook messages. At first I ignored them (I joined all these sites when they first came out, but don’t visit except to accept invitations sometimes). When I was finally enticed to check, I was amazed to find a buzzing Indian community. I recognized people I had not talked to for years from visits to my profile, I saw that my old school has more than 2000 members (I think I had checked this a few years back and there were 4-5 members). Now that trickle of Orkut mailings has become a deluge, and I find myself visiting the site at least once a day (those who know me are aware of my skpeticism regarding earlier social networking sites such as Orkut and LinkedIn, so this is my surprise to day the least).

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My slides for WebVisions: Designing for Social Sharing

Here are my slides for the Webvisions talk. The talk pulled together a lot of threads that I have been thinking about recently. How social sharing is happening on the web (tagging is but one way of social sharing. There are several other ways, e.g., viral sharing at YouTube). How massively multiplayer games can design of such social apps. And finally, how rich interfaces (yes, I am talking about AJAX) fit in and bolster these trends. Some people who attended the talk had some kind words. Below are my slides for the talk. Enjoy!

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Findability with tags: Facets, clusters, and pivot browsing

For a while I have been thinking of different ways of supporting finding information with tags that go beyond tag-clouds. There are three trends that are worth pointing out.

1) 7_06_facets.jpg
Faceted Browsing Metaphor
The first is faceted browse interfaces. A good example of such an interface is You can start browsing by picking any of the facets (price, region, type). For example, you might start by looking at wines from a particular region. Next, you decide to view by price. If you don’t like that option, you can change the facet, and start looking by type. You are in control every step of the way. In many ways, this could be the holy grail for tagging systems.

The metaphor that comes to mind for faceted browse is that of driving a car. You are in control, you decide when to turn right, or when to turn left, when to stop.

There are several different ways of going from tags to facets. RawSugar, Siderean (, and are different ways of going from tags to facets.

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