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Bookmarks, Babies, Barack...
                    and other social objects
                                Jyri Engeström
                           (thinking by Ulla-Maaria)




                                 zengestrom.com hobbyprincess.com
                                  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.
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
1. How social objects work




Let’s start with an example of what makes an object ‘social’.
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.
Delicious example




Sometimes I bookmarked pages like this book review without even thinking they were that
interesting.
Delicious example




Later I noticed a few other people had also bookmarked that same review.
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.
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...
...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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
2. Social objects and power




Objects give power to their makers.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
3. Social objects and stickiness




Next I want to talk about what drives people to return to objects.
Do you...
                                        - blog
                                    - microblog
                                    - photoblog
                                    - videoblog
                                     - mmorpg
                                         etc.?




What kind of personal publishing do you do?
Ever feel...
        Guilty not updating as frequently as you should?




Ever get the feeling you should really update your blog more often?
Needies




                                    Crying baby




           Nurturing and cultivation (Claude Ciborra)

Social objects are needy. They demand our attention and require nurturing.
Lack or wanting




By virtue of completing a post, a new one is implied to be wanting.
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.
the self as a sequence of wantings




Think about the idea that we constitute ourselves through a ‘sequence of wantings’
an object provides for these wants




We need objects, because they provide for our wants
through the lacks it displays.




The objects provide for our wants through their own lacks, which we can act on to fulfill
them.
Fulfillment is gratification... and contains the seed of a new want.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average
                        Oct. 8–14th, 2008

The stock market also has lacks and provides gratification.
“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...
“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.
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
The Lord of the Rings, for instance, is a story with a beginning and an end...
But the world it implies is much broader, with its own languages and metaphysics
“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
4. Social objects and love




Lastly we will address enriching human relationships and love
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.
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.
Facebook in Reality
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs



Linda Stone recently drew our attention to this illustrative YouTube clip that the British
comedy trio Idiots of Ants aired on BBC.
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.
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 :)

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

  • 1. Bookmarks, Babies, Barack... and other social objects Jyri Engeström (thinking by Ulla-Maaria) zengestrom.com hobbyprincess.com 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 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nrlSkU0TFLs 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 :)