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Dreaming of a Better Social Web

The way the social Web currently works is that it forces people to manage identities. For instance, say I join Facebook primarily to keep in touch with old college buddies, and in that context I take on my “Kegger” persona. But on LinkedIn I prefer to project a more serious “Business” persona. Meanwhile, I use MySpace to manage the sensitive “Artist” side of me.

This is artificial and cumbersome, if not a little schizophrenic, because people are made of multitudes. People aren’t personas and identities. They are the whole of their interests and experiences, which is greater than the parts.

Some tentative strides are being made to break down the siloed nature of the social Web, mostly in the form of aggregators such as Socialthing, FriendFeed, and [hat tip to Glark for a thorough review]. However, I envision a digital environment that represents people as themselves in all of their experiences and engages them on the level of their interests, no matter how varied they may be.

In other words, don’t give us a place to manage a persona and share a manufactured identity. Give us a place to manage and share our interests and experiences. And build these virtual spaces on open modular platforms that enable members to share their interests and port apps and tools to other social sites or mobile devices, thus enhancing our actual interactions and not just our virtual ones.



I'll leave it to others to discuss the ironies of a film made by Disney's Pixar presenting a dystopian vision of a planet and a people ruined by media, mass consumption, and technology.

More worthy of note, in my opinion, is that the adorable hero of the story—a robot that acquires human traits by collecting and consuming artifacts of human culture, and in the process saves earth—is, in effect, an archivist of ephemera.


The Commandment of Context

On Monday swissmiss posted her 10 Commandments of Web Design. I try to avoid lists of 10. At best they incite argument. At worst they are confining and dogmatic. Besides, I much prefer lists that go to 11.

For what it is, swissmiss's list is fine, offering a reasonable checklist of things toward which most Web designer's should strive. But, as early readers of this blog know, she lost me at 10: "Thou shalt make content king." Perhaps her definition of content and mine are different, but I still argue that no matter how one might want it otherwise, context will always be dominant.

The proof is in the Web itself. Some of its content is good. Some of it is bad. Most of its seemingly endless content is not very well sorted. However, the Web's ability to serve up content quickly, through such tools as Google, is a major reason the Web is putting a serious dent in other media. I doubt anyone would argue that the content of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or Washington Post is inferior to what's on the Internet, but it's available when I want it and is just good enough to make a trip now to the newsstand and later to the recycle bin not worth it.

For further evidence, revisit how Wikipedia dismantled Britannica. Or ask a blind person if content or context is king. I suspect even the best content delivered in any context other than braille or audio would be useless. Or look to the Visual Thesaurus, which swissmiss has deservedly won kudos for designing and has changed the way we think of thesauri through its interface, with or without better content than Roget.

Update: Joshua Porter has a really good post on his blog, Bokardo, about how people and the technology they create co-evolve. Very McLuhanesque. About a few new technologies he has adopted, he writes:

It’s interesting to note that these technologies are late-comers by a long-shot. Many, many solutions had already existed in the marketplace supporting the exact same activities for a long time before they showed up. But this software is designed so smoothly that it actually pushes the state-of-the-art forward…changing the way we do those activities.
Although not directly related to my point about context, Porter's post led me to think: content is the reason why we do something, but context will always determine how we do it.


Virtual Shelves

One thing that old-school librarians like to say about the Internet and search engines and Amazon is that, while they're great at serving up specific information when you want it, they don't allow for discovery. In other words, what if you don't know exactly what you want and just want to browse in the hope you'll find something useful or entertaining? The Web, old-schoolers say, doesn't enable such browsing the way shelves in a library do.

Well, now the Web does, too. Meet Zoomii.

With its drag-and-zoom browsing interface a la Google Maps, wouldn't Zoomii be a great addition to an OPAC?

Thanks to Mrs. Librarian (who keeps me Playful) for finding this on Information Aesthetics.