Tom Coates – Social Change On The Web

Tom Coates is a Social Software Technologist at Yahoo! Tom talked about building social software that is greater than the sum of their parts in the CarsonWorkshops The Future of Web apps Conference. According to Tom, social software allows us to do “more together than we could do apart.” This is an interesting point, because anyone can slap a beta image on some HTML, add tags and Ajax effects, and call it a social web 2.0 thingamajig. But in the world wide web, if you build it they won’t necessarily come. So how do you build a web application that is greater than the sum of its parts? Well, in a nutshell Tom recommends the following: Users need to receive a value from their contribution, the contribution provides a value to peers, the aggregation of the contributions provide value to the organization. In other words, the web application needs to provide a sense of individual, social, and organizational value.

Tom had an interesting slide where he quotes someone whose name now escapes me. The slide read something like, “Two reasons for social software (and everything else): get laid and please Jesus!” Similarly I have read research conducted on Stargate fan sites that claim that the pyramids of Egypt had little to do with the after life and a lot to do with picking up the ladies. In addition to the obvious reasons of getting laid, Tom presented a list of common motives for community involvement. According to Tom (via Peter Kollack and The Economies of Online Cooperation), the motives behind community involvement include: anticipate reciprocity, reputation, sense of efficacy, identification with a group.

Tom also had an interesting list of the motives behind Open Source developers. The motives in order of importance include: learning to code, gaining reputation, scratching an itch, contributing to the commons, and sticking it to Microsoft.

Tom’s final remarks dealt with general advice on how to open up a web application to provide social value. Tom’s advice includes, exposing every axis of data possible, helping user to annotate, rate, comment, and share their contributions, allowing users to associate, connect, and form relationships, and finally to provide users with place to represent and express themselves.

In the end of his talk, Tom said, people want to feel like they have an effect on the world.

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