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social

It took a while for the importance of social networking to rise into consciousness in technology.

For a long time, it seemed as if people working in technology thought that the human element was somehow dispensible, that all it took was a superior product vetted by neatbean-counting robots to win mass buy-in.

Take Facebook.

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People knew, and had known for some time, that certain products had yet to claim their market share – Facebook, formerly MySpace, formerly a webpage that everyone can easily build, that all their friends can see and join in on too. This was not seen as primarily a social problem, but as a technological one. People thought that the right company just hadn’t built the right platform yet, with the right amount of advanced JavaScript and load-balancing and whatnot. Once they did, that particular problem would be solved, and everyone would fall into line.

But what did it, really, was not technological in nature. What made Facebook was status.

The website-where-everyone-can-see-everyone-else’s-website always had this “Sears/McDonald’s” status marker problem. Basically, it wasn’t exclusive enough. In practice, it’s rather rude to say that, and not very nice of people to act that way; yet act that way, they did.

The fact is that people were avoiding these sites because too many other people had been empowered to create their own art, their own design, and express themselves in ways that basically alienated the crowd with its inclusiveness. Facebook nicely soothed peopple here by coming out of the environment most associated with status, with class, with power, with being part of the In Crowd. Instead of granting automatic admission, people had to vie to get in; Facebook, despite wanting everyone in the world to belong to it, had to pretend for a while, that it had a velvet rope you couldn’t pass.

That’s not technology, that’s status; and status is squarely in the quadrant of social, which is simply politics and culture by another name.

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Social is a good frame to view the Internet through, because, while technically we have acceptable solutions to all kinds of problems, socially, there are yawning opportunities.

See Google. If you’ve every scanned through all 10 pages of search results of Google search results and examined them closely, it’s clear this is a poor presentation of them. Quantity is obviously standing in for quality; it becomes apparent that there is important information that should be closer to the top, that’s being pushed into the darkness where no one can see it. Search with the social aspect minimized, in other words, is very poor search.

We can also see this in terms of images, too. It’s shocking to me that, this many years into the tech revolution, we’re just starting to see the basic image search come into its own (Pinterest, Instagram, etc.), with photos. We still have no clear winners in terms of generating images that are not photos. That still lies ahead of us; someone will win it, and then that will create an ecosystem that will spin off other successes, too. But for now, it has yet to happen.

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