February 23, 2004

got spedo?

In his post, Social Swimwear, the always astute ex-pat Tom Matrullo asks:

The point of social software, please?

I answer:

That there is no point.

The talk, the term, and the talk about the term are all misleading, and kept me away from the social software party until a couple of weeks ago. I had the "what's the point" bug too. The point of social software itself should not be the point. When it works its way into the discussion AS the point (as it does in many "social software" circles) it devalues what is happening.

The big news is what is happening--what can happen--via social software--as in, social software as a conduit for ____________ (this space intentionally left blank).

In my experience, any tool, any software, is most exciting, invigorating, and powerful when it has the most potential. That is, before it has a point. Before it is defined, confined, featured-up, buttoned-down. It's the space between the earth and the moon before we walked, the time between the first blog post and the Dean campaign in weblog history--it's the beauty of the beta.

So I say, that's the point really.

Orkut was a finished product disguised as a beta. That's obvious to me now because I don't feel the velocity in orkut. My hair isn't blown back. I'm not hanging on. They've waited to long to push the envelope. They gave me a chance to ask, "Now what?" That's too long to stand still on the net.

Unlike my summer home at Orkut, my new condo at Flickr is where I want to spend my time.

You could sit inside of flickr and wonder, what's the point here? What's the point of more communities? What's the point of the "shoebox" where you can store random images--which so far consist of rather inconsequential images? (That is, except for the picture of Joi's head on the well-endowed glitzy and barely-clad body of a Mardi Gras roller skater), my Elephant Poop photo, vacation photos of strange rock formations, and my newest favorite, downtown Cleveland at night.

Could I live without the nightscape of downtown Cleveland?

Tough one to answer. But I think so.

Could I live without elephant poop?

Undecided. Leaning toward no.

I do know that my online life would be less meaningful without the what-next of social software.

I don't know what's next. That's the point.

Maybe what's next is:

When a group forms around a specific ailment or health problem, and we're swapping pictures of rashes, or bumps, or lumps...

When we set up a missing kids group to keep abreast of who to be on the lookout for, share tips for keeping our kids safe, numbers for authorities...

When 26 poets construct a poem in realtime that makes me cry....

When I play around in a chat box and am bodily dragged into a group by another participant, start talking, sharing histories, swapping brain spit, and learning that someone I thought was an asshole really isn't one...

When flickr enables mp3's to be dragged into group chats, and suddenly an ungroup of musicians strewn across the planet, or across a city, can swap melodies, chord changes, rhythm tracks--and then talk about them--building web bands, all for free, all from one spot...

VoIP, Mp3s, Images, Words--those inform this process--this 21st Century Renaissance. The Art, Tragedy, Drama. The Tears, Sweat, Salt. The Literature, Poetry, Jokes, Farts, Pasta Recipes. The Loss, Grief, Support. The Chaos, Organization, Meaning--those are the points along the curve of social software.

There will come a day when all of this names itself. And that name will make more sense than Social Software.

And No horse is needed at all.