Tag: social killer app

Breeding adaptations in the world of facebook

Commenters skb and Matt Cooperrider have asked for an example that justifies my claim in “Social Killer App” that “My generation has done back flips to meet the socialware demands of Facebook.” An example came up in a conversation i overheard on the subway yesterday.

Two women, apparently close friends, were discussing a man whom one had been involved with. This was a complicated relationship; it had been long distance for some time, and now they were closer together, but still he did not seem to have the time for her that she expected from him. Her mother had suggested that perhaps she was not the only woman in the man’s life, but there was no real evidence for that. He had told her that she deserves better, but still expressed interest in her.

“So what do you want?” asked the patient friend.

“Well,” said the other, “I guess what I want is…. Well, when I changed my Relationship Status [on Facebook], I took off that I was single. I didn’t say I was in any relationship or anything, but I’m not single. I’m committed to seeing where this thing goes. And I wish that he would do the same.”

Without being too glib in reading into this example, I think it demonstrates how today even very personal and subtle social relations get reified in social network technology, and how there is an admittedly heterogenous social expectation that one use those technologies in meaningful ways.

MIT Collaboratorium

Matt Cooperrider pointed me towards this YouTube video on MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence Collaboratorium project:

In my opinion, their design is too centralized and too top-down; but I nevertheless give these folks a tremendous amount of credit, because I believe that a solution to the collaborative deliberation problem they are trying to solve could save the world. It could provide the technological foundation for a Habermasian’ ideal speech situation.  If done right–and MIT doesn’t seem far off from a great first step–it would be the social killer app.

Social Killer App

The term “killer app” has come to mean any particularly kickass software. But originally, it had a more specific meaning: a killer app was “an application so compelling that someone will buy the hardware or software components necessary to run it.”

Today’s great web apps can no longer be said to run on chips alone. Google’s success as an application depends on the socially built network of links on the internet. Amazon and Ebay rely on user provided ratings and reviews. Wikipedia’s software is relatively simple; only an enduring community of contributors has made it the institution it is today. In each case, the success of the application is intimately tied to the behavior of its substrate of users. This is all commonplace knowledge now, as these were the Founding Fathers of the Web 2.0. What they and social software that has come after them prove is that today’s software applications run on both hardware and socialware. (Socioware? Soc(k)ware?)

Many people today have embraced the idea of using social software for social change. Normally, what they mean by this is that software can help people perform the traditional activities of reform–e.g. discussion, organization, advocacy, publicity. That idea is true and noble and becoming manifest as we speak.

But there is another way in which software can change society. The dependence of people on new technology and social technology on people makes possible the social killer app–an application so compelling that people will adopt the socialware necessary to use it.

This is already happening, of course. My generation has done back flips to meet the socialware demands of Facebook, for example. But there is no normatively backed agenda here; the revolutions necessary for Facebook’s success were accidental effects of a profit motive.

I dream of a piece of software that is both compelling and engineered such that its deployment demands the radical transformation of society for the better. And I don’t think this dream is far fetched or beyond us. At all.