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Bookmarks, Babies, Barack... and other social objects


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Slides from talk at Microsoft Research 2008 Social Computing Symposium

Published in: Technology

Bookmarks, Babies, Barack... and other social objects

  1. Bookmarks, Babies, Barack... and other social objects Jyri Engeström (thinking by Ulla-Maaria) Google/Jaiku Thinglink This talk is a deep dive after which I hope you understand why social objects are deeply consequential to society, enterprise, and personal happiness.
  2. 1. How social objects work 2. Social objects and power 3. Social objects and stickiness 4. Social objects and love We’ll start with an example of how social objects do their magic. After this, we’ll discuss three themes: how social objects give power to their makers, how they make you come back to them, and how they can enrich or stifle human relationships
  3. 1. How social objects work Let’s start with an example of what makes an object ‘social’.
  4. Delicious example How I learned to love Delicious In 2005 I was a grad student working on my PhD thesis. Much of my time was spent in the library sifting through literature for nuggets of relevant theory and prior research. I used Delicious to bookmark web pages relevant to my research interests.
  5. Delicious example Sometimes I bookmarked pages like this book review without even thinking they were that interesting.
  6. Delicious example Later I noticed a few other people had also bookmarked that same review.
  7. Here are those two other users, called just101 and P.Putter. I’m not really interested in who they are though: I’m just mining for useful links.
  8. One of them, P.Putter, tagged the page “ANT”, short for actor network theory. This interesting: I am reading up on ANT. I clicked the tag...
  9. ...and discovered a set of set of links to other references on actor network theory, collected by P.Putter. Delicious proved itself useful by connecting me to reading lists compiled by others.
  10. People don’t just connect to each other - They connect through a shared object The Delicious example demonstrates how people connect through objects. A bookmark led me to P.Putter, and P.Putter led me to valuable links.
  11. Social network theory is good at representing links between people - But it doesn’t explain what connects those particular people and not others Now, the problem with social network theory is that it’s good at representing people and the links between them, but it doesn’t explain why people connect in the first place.
  12. The common definition of a social network consists of individuals and the connections between them, but misses the objects that are the reason why people come together.
  13. The common definition of a social network consists of individuals and the connections between them, but misses the objects that are the reason why people come together.
  14. Another tradition of theorizing offers an explanation of why so many YASNS ultimately fail Lev Vygotsky Pierre Bourdieu Karin Knorr-Cetina Bruno Latour Yrjö Engeström Psychologist Sociologist Sociologist Actor-network theorist Activity theorist 1896-1934 1930-2002 1944- 1947- 1948- Another tradition of theorizing considers objects as fundamental to the analysis of sociality as the people themselves.
  15. 2. Social objects and power Objects give power to their makers.
  16. Bruno Latour Actor-network theorist 1947– Actors are networks The key insight of actor network theory is that actors -- whether human or non-human -- are ‘black boxes’ of network relationships.
  17. Arborescences (Deleuze & Quattari, John Law) Power relationships emerge when networks form treelike structures (arborescences in the language of Deleuze & Quattari and John Law). This diagram, for instance, illustrates a number of patents that all refer to one patent by Mycogen Plant Science, Inc.
  18. Case studies in startup entrepreneurs Louis Pasteur Inventor of pasteurization 1822–1895 In a series of studies of innovators like Louis Pasteur (the French scientist who invented the method of pasteurization), ANT theorists showed how entrepreneurship is about the crafting into being of arborescent relationships of power.
  19. Success = becoming an “obpop” (obligatory point of passage) Successful entrepreneurs turn their object into an obligatory point of passage (an “obpop” according to my friend Azeem Azhar).
  20. An obpop... until the socio-material network that performs it changes ANT emphasizes that nothing is stable and fixed, ever. The obpop exists only as long as the socio-material network that performs it keeps re-enacting it.
  21. 3. Social objects and stickiness Next I want to talk about what drives people to return to objects.
  22. Do you... - blog - microblog - photoblog - videoblog - mmorpg etc.? What kind of personal publishing do you do?
  23. Ever feel... Guilty not updating as frequently as you should? Ever get the feeling you should really update your blog more often?
  24. Needies Crying baby Nurturing and cultivation (Claude Ciborra) Social objects are needy. They demand our attention and require nurturing.
  25. Lack or wanting By virtue of completing a post, a new one is implied to be wanting.
  26. Karin Knorr-Cetina Sociologist 1944- “We maintain that traders’ engagement with markets is based on a match between the self as a sequence of wantings and an unfolding object that provides for these wants through the lacks it displays.” Karin Knorr-Cetina and Urs Bruegger studied financial traders. After each trade, the market was different and demanded a new assessment of the situation. Traders were hooked to this dynamic. It made them what they were.
  27. the self as a sequence of wantings Think about the idea that we constitute ourselves through a ‘sequence of wantings’
  28. an object provides for these wants We need objects, because they provide for our wants
  29. through the lacks it displays. The objects provide for our wants through their own lacks, which we can act on to fulfill them.
  30. Fulfillment is gratification... and contains the seed of a new want.
  31. The Dow Jones Industrial Average Oct. 8–14th, 2008 The stock market also has lacks and provides gratification.
  32. “In this account, the ‘hooking’ power of the market derives not only from the embodiment on screen ... but also from the dynamic and incompleteness that markets display.” Let’s break this sentence down...
  33. “In this account, the ‘hooking’ power of the market derives not only from the embodiment on screen ... but also from the dynamic and incompleteness that markets display.” Its hooking power derives from its incompleteness.
  34. Unfinished tales unleash the imagination J.R.R. Tolkien Author of ‘Lord of the Rings’ 1892–1973 To apply this to social software like Web services or gaming, it may be helpful to think about the way storytelling takes advantage of incompleteness. Great storytellers like J.R.R. Tolkien have a way of asking more questions than they answer
  35. The Lord of the Rings, for instance, is a story with a beginning and an end...
  36. But the world it implies is much broader, with its own languages and metaphysics
  37. “Change” Barack Obama 2008 U.S. Presidential candidate 1961– Similarly, through their gestures, expressions, and presence, performers like presidential candidates suggest more than they say. In our imaginations, we pick up on those cues and tell stories about our future were those persons to lead the country
  38. 4. Social objects and love Lastly we will address enriching human relationships and love
  39. The focus of social software has turned to increasing our Dunbar’s number 150 The Internet is powerful at distributing information. It lowers the transaction cost involved in social relationships and both developers and users have taken advantage of this to favor communication with more people than we would ever communicate with face to face. Social software has thus focused on increasing the Dunbar’s number of circa 150 people who we are supposed to be able to have meaningful relationships with.
  40. Zygmunt Bauman Sociologist 1925– Quantitative increase skews toward “top-pocket relationships” The sociologist Zygmunt Bauman called these ‘top pocket relationships’. The analogy is that people are used like the pen in the top pocket of a dress shirt: it can be taken out quickly and put back when it’s no longer needed.
  41. Facebook in Reality Linda Stone recently drew our attention to this illustrative YouTube clip that the British comedy trio Idiots of Ants aired on BBC.
  42. Limits of platform APIs Paucity of expression Inability to discover true novelty Loss of interest The concern is that if all applications must conform to the same set of limitations across services, the repertoire of possible expressions is limited across the board. The challenge of social platforms in the long run is to design for really emergent behavior that enables rich enough interaction that people are able to keep their relationships fresh.
  43. Tim O’Reilly Publisher 1954– Stop and look around; there is a world out there. Tim O’Reilly recently issued a call for internet entrepreneurs to make meaningful apps instead of continuing their ‘mad pursuit for the buck’. I would like to end with that. There is a big social object out there called planet earth, and it needs us :)