Social Software Works In Triangles

When I wrote about the dinner with Marc Canter here some 2 months ago I also mentioned thinking about social software as being composed of different triangles.

The notion stems from how I use Flickr and delicious. I track individuals and their bookmarks and through those two pieces of info I get to know their use of language as well as their general areas of interest for the day. But I also look at how the stuff I bookmark has been tagged by other people. Are these people already familiar to me? Different language use (in the tags) may hint towards different circles of people and communities.

You see that in both cases I don’t really look at the bookmark itself, and I certainly don’t use it as a singular piece of information. It is merely an object around which I look for existing relationships, and scout out possible new ones. An object of sociality that has served its role as soon as I used it to find new people, or connect to already familiar ones.

It works much the same way for Flickr, though the aspect to get a quick glance at what my existing relationships are up to is more important to me here.

In general you could say that both Flickr and delicious work in a triangle: person, picture/bookmark, and tag(s). Or more abstract a person, an object of sociality, and some descriptor. In every triangle there always needs to be a person and an object of sociality. The third point of the triangle is free to define as it were.

Flickr Photo as Object of Sociality

This becomes more interesting once you start using the descriptors to move from one object of sociality to the next, or when the descriptor is an object of sociality itself. Now you can hop through different applications while still doing the same thing you previously did inside one application: build connections to people based on their current interest, albeit a picture, a location, an event, a bookmark, a blogpost or a document.

We generally call the stacking of apps like this mash-up. But in this case more importantly it allows us as people to seamlessly wander from one application to another while not being interrupted because you have to consciously migrate from one ‘channel’ to another. It is not mash-up to bring more functionality into one new application based on existing ones, it is mash-up to more closely follow your own routines while building and maintaining relationships.

Plazes for instance puts itself in the place of the tags in Flickr, and presto, now pictures are tied to geographic locations and vice versa. Through which you then can find (new) people again.

Flickr and Plazes Mashed

To me this also means that self-proclaimed social applications that do not offer you the possibility to explore all sides of a triangle, aren’t useful as a social medium. A bookmarking service that does say how many others bookmarked the same thing, but does not let you explore who these people are or lets you see who uses what tags, only the tags used by themselves, doesn’t do much in a social sense. By maintaining the triangle you make sure that individuals keep their face in the masses even when you aggregate info. (You can always drill back to a person and her personal set of in this case bookmarks and tags)

You can enter any triangle through a single point. This is the most basic use of an application. I store pictures, I bookmark, I write, I geotag. But from that you can start exploring the sides of the triangle, finding new connections to people either based on the object of sociality, or by browsing the descriptors and hopping to the next object of sociality.

Social software I think is social because it puts relationships in the center view, and less the information that flows through these relationships. The possibility of triangulation allows you to also extend and broaden both existing and new relationships into new information domains, and thus increases the likelihood of new networks of relationships and meaning emerging from the background noise.

Photo Value of Triangulation by Roland Tanglao during the Seattle Blogwalk. (CC license)

9 thoughts on “Social Software Works In Triangles

  1. Stephen Downes

    Right.
    Social network analysis (and most social network software) tells you that two people, A and B, are connected. But that’s it.
    Social networking becomes a semantic social network when we can determine how A and B are connected. When we can determine what meaning they share in common.
    Good insight, good post.

  2. Ton Zijlstra

    Thanks Stephen.
    It seems we missed each other by less than a day in Vienna last month, at CSI. I certainly would have enjoyed meeting you f2f.
    Ton

  3. spataro

    You say “Social networking becomes a semantic social network when we can determine how A and B are connected. When we can determine what meaning they share in common.”
    I’m developed a tagging solution for lawyers in Italy and Europe ( http://www.iusvision.com/tagging ).
    In this case they shares legal news.
    The problem of tagging everything, for every reason, involves datas collected, and the feel of community to be togheter.
    I’m studying on http://www.geotag.it the actual standards on geotagging. The community aspect is important, but if the sites has a specialized goal, if it is not a general purpouse site, can tagging feed a community, or traditional forum / groups solutions are better ?
    Spataro
    http://www.geotag.it

  4. Rino

    Quote: “Social network analysis (and most social network software) tells you that two people, A and B, are connected. But that’s it.”
    Sure, you can stop your analysis there. But the same software will also tell you that person A is also connected to C, and C to D, and B to D, etc. All of a sudden triangles pop up. And you can ad proximity measures, based on shared attributes. Than it appears that Flickr itself isn’t part of the triangle Ton-Elmine-Flickr, but that Ton and Elmine are more closely connected to each other than they are to any other third person, based on their shared Flickr tags. The Flikcr tags function as attributes that indicate ‘connectedness’. A lot of other attributes do that as well. If you also feed them to the picture than it may appear that in fact Ton is more closely connected to Lilia than each of them is to Elmine.
    The triangles exist among people – the different ‘social’ attributes [of all sorts] tell you who is more connected to whom, relative to a third person. All kinds of other interesting questions originate from that ‘overall’ triangulated picture.
    My 2 euro-cents…

  5. martin

    indeed- the transitions between (supposedly) “social” relations and semantics are the key of Thomas Vander Wal’s original “folksonomies” concept. the semantics of social software have still to be analyzed. Thomas has described it as as sort of semantic triangulation himself.

  6. dave davison

    Ton- linked here from Dave Pollard’s blog – thanks for your contribution to my understanding of both “folksonomy” and “semantic triangulation” and a reminder to read Vanderwal. I am working on a CC NewMedia publishing venture using Langdon Morris’ soon to be published Permanent Innovation. I see by your book list that you are interested in Innovation as a KM subject which is the basis of the stories Langdon tells in his book.Would you like to join the ccmmons and participate in growing the network of people with interesting stories to tell about their personal or organisational approaches to Innovation? I have posted about your My Mashup triangulation process on my personal blog Thoughts Illustrated: “My Mashups” – Triangulation of Social Relationshiips

  7. Ton's Interdependent Thoughts

    Pivots, Want More Pivots

    Dreaming of Tags Shortly before waking up one morning, while camping in the Austrian Alps in the past weeks (as seen above) I had a dream about tags. Or rather I dreamt that my brother in law had created…

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