Social Objects


Monitored the top 100 websites and deduced some megatrends about the upcoming ones and the diminishing sites. Social sites have been around for a while. Firefly, bought by Microsoft and quickly killed. SixDegrees rises and then fails to gain additional funding after collapse. Next is Friendster, which is still in the top 100 English-language websites. Is MySpace another butterfly? Will it flutter in and then fizzle out? There's something about sites like Flickr that you know you will be using them for years to come.

The sites that work are built around social objects.

How to provide a useful service around social objects

Five Principles of Social Objects
1) Define clearly what the objects are and then give each object a unique URL so you can comment, tag, link in
2) Define the VERBS which show what users can do with the objects
eg on Ebay - its BUY and SELL

on dogster it's ADD A DOG

maybe invent a new verb

3) Make the objects shareable - widgets, thumbnails, embed code etc
4) Enable gifts - because it's being able to give something to a friend that motivates virality. Turn the invitations into gifts.
Soon, people will not pay to download music, but they will pay to publish their playlists

Browsing photos in Flickr is free, but if you want to UPLOAD lots, you have to upgrade.

which is turning the business model around fom charging the spectators to charging the publishers:

5) Charge the publishers not the spectators. Learning this from Joi Ito.
There will be a day when people don't pay to download or consume music but the opportunity to publish their playlists online.

Another model is Habbo Hotel - free to wnader around and interact with people but ther is a charge to build you own room and invite people. Secondlife works a bit the same.

So these ideas seem to make a lot of sense, and they come from object centred social theory.


1. Simpler
2. Cheaper
3. Frees people from the need to go to an inconvenient place

On the blogs
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activity theory

Boundary Objects
Matt Moore links Social Objects to Boundaries:

"Social objects remind me of the "boundary objects" than Denham Grey outlines. Boundary objects are narrower in scope as they allow different groups to communicate with each other where as Jyri's social objects could mediate between those who know each other well."

Denham Grey quotes:

"Boundary object (BO), originally introduced by Starr (1989), is a concept to refer to objects that serve an interface between different communities of practice. Boundary objects are an entity shared by several different communities but viewed or used differently by each of them. As Star points out, boundary objects in an organization work because they necessarily contain sufficient detail to be understandable by both parties, however, neither party is required to understand the full context of use by the other - boundary objects serve as point of mediation and negotiation around intent.

Boundary objects are flexible enough to adapt to local needs and have different distinct identities in different communities, but at the same time robust enough to maintain a common identity across the boundaries to be a place for shared work. Boundary objects are not necessarily physical artifacts such as a map between two people: they can be a set of information, conversations, interests, rules, plans, contracts, or even persons."

Susan Leigh Star
The structure of ill-structured solutions: boundary objects and heterogeneous distributed problem solving

The concept of boundary objects as presented below thus is simultaneously metaphor, model, and high-level requirement for a distributed artificial intelligence system p.44

Ø Real world information systems are distributed and decentralized, they evolve continuously, embody different viewpoints, and have arms-length relationships between actors requiring negotiation p.45

Ø The information in an open system is thus heterogeneous, that is, different locales have different knowledge sources, viewpoints, and means of accomplishing tasks based on local contingencies and constraints

Ø Boundary objects are objects that are both plastic enough to adapt to local needs and constraints of the several parties employing them, yet robust enough to maintain a common identity across sites p.46

Ø There are different types of boundary objects depending on the characteristics of the heterogeneous information being joined to create them

§ Study of neurophysiologists – the case is the unit of analysis for clinicians, whereas for basic researchers it is analytic generalizations about classes of events p.47

§ Study of biologists – the specimen itself is the unit of analysis for the amateur, whereas for the professional biologist the specimens form part of an abstract generalization about ecology, evolution, or the distribution of species p.48

four types
Found four types of boundary objects p.48-51 (not an exhaustive list)

Ø Repositories – ordered piles of objects that are indexed in a standard fashion

§ Built to deal with problems of heterogeneity caused by differences in unit of analysis

§ Have the advantage of modularity

Ø Platonic Object (Ideal Type) – A map or atlas that does not accurately describe the details of any one location

§ Abstracted from all domains – fairly vague – a means of communicating and cooperating symbolically

§ Have the advantage of adaptability

Ø Terrain with coincident boundaries – common objects with the same boundaries but different internal contents

§ Arise in the presence of different means of aggregating data and when work is distributed over a large-scale geographic area

§ Have the advantage of resolution of different goals

Ø Forms and labels – devised as methods of common communications across dispersed work groups

§ Standardized forms to fill out at highly distributed sites

§ Result in standardized indexes and immutable mobiles (convey unchanging information over long distances)

§ Advantages of such objects are that local uncertainties are deleted

§ May or may not come to be part of repositories

Summary and Conclusions p.51

Ø The creation of boundary objects both respects local contingencies and allows for cross-site translation

Ø Problem solving in the contexts described above produces workable solutions that are not … well-structured. Rather, they are ill-structured: they are inconsistent, ambiguous, and often illogical. Yet they are functional and serve to solve many tough problems in distributed artificial intelligence.

Example - Biodiversity

Susan Leigh Star and James Griesemer introduced the concept in 1989 to describe information used in different ways by different communities. Since then it has been defined in many ways: the "boundary object" is itself a boundary object, but Dr Kwa used it to mean a concept that is shared by different communities, but whose details differ from community to community.

So what "is" biodiversity? Biodiversity is not just what it says in the CBD definition. It goes beyond, and is more far reaching and ambiguous, than that already rather complicated formula. The definition belongs among the set of ideas, beliefs, feelings, objects, relationships between objects, documents and vocabulary that allows people from different backgrounds and perspectives to agree that they are working towards a common understanding of biodiversity. Those different perspectives all contribute to a working arrangement between very different ways of thinking and doing business.

The term, and the concept, allow people to co-operate. Geneticists, taxonomists, sociologists, ecologists, modellers, economists, bio-chemists, conservationists, policy makers, TV documentary makers and many other groups interpret "biodiversity" differently. But they all agree they're talking about biodiversity. This encourages us to interact across communities. And as we interact, our perspectives shift and our own interpretation of the concept evolves. Boundary objects are flexible if the person thinking about the object is willing to accept new angles, flux, and even ambiguity.