Social Software

So I’m reading Clay Shirky’s intriguing essay about social software, and a thought occurs to me about a telephone conversation I was having today.


It’s very difficult to coordinate a conference call, because people can’t see one another, which makes it hard to manage the interrupt logic. In Joi’s conference call, the interrupt logic got moved to the chat room. People would type “Hand,” and the moderator of the conference call will then type “You’re speaking next,” in the chat. So the conference call flowed incredibly smoothly.

Meanwhile, in the chat, people are annotating what people are saying. “Oh, that reminds me of So-and-so’s work.” Or “You should look at this URL…you should look at that ISBN number.” In a conference call, to read out a URL, you have to spell it out — “No, no, no, it’s w w w dot net dash…” In a chat window, you get it and you can click on it right there. You can say, in the conference call or the chat: “Go over to the wiki and look at this.”

This is a broadband conference call, but it isn’t a giant thing. It’s just three little pieces of software laid next to each other and held together with a little bit of social glue. This is an incredibly powerful pattern. It’s different from: Let’s take the Lotus juggernaut and add a web front-end.

When I was on the GNOME release team, we used to do these Friday morning conference calls, and at the same time we’d be talking on the phone we’d all be in the IRC channel. Mostly people just made jokes, but occasionally some useful piece of information would change hands, without interrupting.

Which made me think about an increasingly common phenomenon when I’m interviewing people on the phone. They’ll look something up on the web or their hard drive as we’re talking, or email a document that comes through while we’re still talking. But what if, in a takeoff on the Ito example above, we were on the phone and had an AIM window open at the same time? Tom could have pasted a URL that I could have clicked on as we spoke. He could have pasted the precise quote for me. This is powerful stuff if/when we figure out how to use it.