Cooperation, Coordination, and Competition

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

There has been a lot of discussion of late in the social media circles about cooperation and how all social tools and services and their managers need to embrace that model. What is really clear is they have never run or tried to run social environments at any scale that have a broad representation of a population.

In reality there are at least three interactive community types that show up in representative populations, like those you get in a town or a city, or an organization’s internal social platforms. The three interactive community types are: 1) Cooperation; 2) Coordination, and 3) Competition. These three all work in tension with each other. In smaller social settings you will likely run into cooperation and it can work swimmingly. But, the reason that it works so well is there are likely not differences of opinion, different, motivations, and counter purposed goals.

As any social setting grows in size the cohesion and common interests (homogeneity) are diluted with other inters and motivations, just as a hamlet grows into a village, they ease of cooperation moves into the dire need for coordination. As we move to towns or cities, or larger organizations with more than a few hundred people or across more than one location coordination is needed. Cooperation is often quite easy with small groups, but even getting more than two or three small groups to work easily coordination is needed as the ease, and often the pure ability, of cooperation is gone and there needs to be concerted effort and guidance applied through coordination. There can be coordination through agreement as much as their can be coordination through difference. The skills needed for those polar realities are different, but the ability to listen, negotiate, mitigate, and coerce is needed.

The underlying tension is related to competition, which run very strong in certain personality types, but also in various industries. The social interaction designs for competitive personalities are very different from cooperative or those who are comfortable in coordinated models. But, nearly all populations have some representation (small or large) of people (or organizations) who are highly competitive. Thinking that in a social environment, unless it is small and focussed, our community or social interactions are going to be purely cooperative is a bit naive and crazy (or a great way to go crazy quickly).

It really takes understanding humans social interactions at scale and working in them for a few years to see the realities. Humans are as diverse as they are similar and there is no generalizing how humans behave with out understanding the variety of social types (personality, social interactions, social roles, organizational types, and work role types among others). Talk with any organization of any size (above a few hundred people or even one hundred people with more than one location) and you see the difficulties of finding one solution and one way forward.

Pieces of Time, Place, Things, and Personal Connections Loosly Joined

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , ,

There are a lot of people wondering what to do with all the data that is being generated by social tools/sites around the web and the social tools/services inside organization. Well, the answer is to watch the flows, but the pay off value is not in the flow it is in contextualizing the data into usable information. Sadly, few systems have had the metadata available to provide context for location, conversation flow, relevant objects (nouns), or the ability to deal with the granular social network.

How many times have you walked bast a book store and thought, “Hmm, what was that book I was told I should check out?” Or, “my favorite restaurant is book filled, what was the name of the one recommended near here a month or so ago?” When the conversations are digitized in services like Twitter, in Facebook, or the hundreds of other shared services it should be able to come back to you easily. Add in Skype, or IM, which are often captured by the tools and could be pulled into a global context around you, your social connections, the contexts of interest the for the relationships, and the context around the object/subject discussed you should have capability to search to get to this within relatively easy reach.

Latency from Heavy Computational Requirements

What? I am hearing screaming from the engineers about the computational power needed to do this as well as the latency in this system. Design Engaged 2005 I brought up a similar scenario, within context of my Personal InfoCloud and Local InfoCloud frameworks called Clouds, Space & Black Boxes (a 500kb PDF). The key then as it is still is using location and people to build potential context and preprocess likely queries.

When my phone is sharing my location with the social contextual memory parser service that see I am quite near a book store (queue the parsing for shared books, favorited conversations with books, recent wish list additions (as well as older additions), etc. But, it is also at the time I usually eat or pick up food for a meal, so restaurant and food conversations parsed, food blogs favorited (delicious, rated on the blogs, copied into Evernote, or stored in Together or DevonThink on my desktop, etc.) to bring new options or remind of forgotten favorites.

Now, if we pull this contextual relevance into play with augmented reality applications we get something that starts bringing Amazon type recommendations and suggestions to play into our life as well as surfacing information “we knew” at some point to our finger tips when we want it and need it.

Inside the Firewall

I have been helping many companies think through this inside the firewall to have, “have what we collectively know brought before us to help us work smarter and more efficiently”, as one client said recently. The biggest problem is poor metadata and lack of even semi-structured data from RDFa or microformats. One of the most important metadata pieces is identity, who said what, who shared it, who annotated it, who commented on it, who pointed to it, and what is that person’s relationship to me. Most organizations have not thought to ensure that tiny slice of information is available or captured in their tools or service. Once this tiny bit of information is captured and contextualized the results are dramatic. Services like Connectbeam did this years ago with tags in their social bookmarking tool, but kept it when they extended the ability to add tagging in any service and add context.

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Selective Sociality and Social Villages

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , ,

The web provides wonderful serindipity on many fronts, but in this case it brought together two ideas I have been thinking about, working around, and writing about quite a bit lately. The ideas intersect at the junction of the pattern of building social bonds with people and comfort of know interactions that selective sociality brings.

The piece that struck me regarding building and identifying a common bond with another person came out of Robert Paterson's "Mystery of Attraction" post (it is a real gem). Robert describes his introduction and phases of getting to know and appreciate Luis Suarez (who I am a huge fan of and deeply appreciate the conversations I have with him). What Robert lays out in his introduction (through a common friend on-line) is a following of each other's posts and digital trail that is shared out with others. This builds an understanding of each others reputation in their own minds and the shared interest. Upon this listening to the other and joint following they built a relationship of friendship and mutual appreciation (it is not always mutual) and they began to converse and realized they had a lot more in common.

Elements of Social Software Build OrderWhat Robert echos is the Elements in Social Software and its build order. This build order is common in human relationships, but quite often social software leaves out steps or expects conversations, groups, and collaboration to happen with out accounting for the human elements needed to get to this stage. Quite often the interest, ideas, and object (all social objects) are the stimulus for social interaction as they are the hooks that connect us. This is what makes the web so valuable as it brings together those who are near in thought and provides a means to connect, share, and listen to each other. I really like Robert's analogy of the web being like university.

Selective Sociality of Villages

The piece that resonated along similar threads to Robert's post is Susan Mernit's "Twitter & Friend Feed: The Pleasure of Permissions". Susan's post brings to light the value of knowing who you are sharing information with and likes the private or permission-based options that both Twitter and FriendFeed offer. This selective sociality as known Local InfoCloud of people and resources that are trusted and known, which we use as resources. In this case it is not only those with whom we listen to and query, but those with whom we share. This knowing who somebody is (to some degree) adds comfort, which is very much like Robert Patterson and Luis Suarez#039; villages where people know each other and there is a lot of transparency. Having pockets where our social armor is down and we can be free to share and participate in our lives with others we know and are familiar to us is valuable.

I am found these two pieces quite comforting as they reflect much of what I see in the physical community around me as well as the work environments I interact with of clients and collaborators. The one social web service I have kept rather private is Twitter and I really want to know who someone is before I will accept them as a connection. This has given me much freedom to share silly (down right stupid - in a humorous way) observations and statements. This is something I hear from other adults around kids playgrounds and practices of having more select social interactions on line in the services and really wanting to connect with people whom they share interests and most often have known (or followed/listened to) for sometime before formally connecting. Most often these people want to connect with the same people on various services they are trying out, based on recommendation (and often are leaving a service as their friends are no longer there or the service does not meet their needs) of people whom they trust. This is the core of the masses who have access and are not early adopters, but have some comfort with the web and computers and likely make up 80 to 90 percent of web users.

Local InfoCloud as a Responce

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , ,

Ed Vielmetti posted about neighborhoods, networks, communities, online+offline and I had the following comment. My comment seems to fit in as a follow-up post to the Local InfoCloud post (linked below). The online and offline is very important, but so is the individual and the individual interests we have.

There is a huge need for tools that can connect in the neighborhoods. The neighborhood listserve is not the solution, even if some have been successful. The UK's Up My Street was an interesting take on this. There should be potential in something like Yahoo Local, but the people connecting to people is not there.

I have been doing a fair amount of thinking around this as part of the Local InfoCloud (more than just location, but location is very important) as in the Exposing the Local InfoCloud. Each of the components of the Local InfoCloud can be mixed with others and should be mixed.

This summer I have been to more neighborhood cookouts than any time in the past. But the commonality is our kids are around the same age and they interact at the local preschool just up the block. It is the similar/common interests that bring us together. It is the "location", "near in thought" (kids interests), and "affiliation" (school) components that are the aggregation/attraction points.

Part of the problem with every social networking site is they are broad-line friend based and not focussed on facets of our lives. The social network waters are muddied by the broadlines an make it difficult to identify common bonds with people whom we may not yet know, or know from other life contexts. The digital life tools need to start bubbling up the individuals and focuss less on the popularity engines based on people with dissimilar interests.

Location? Location? Where am I?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have been traveling more than usual this year to places in the United States and Europe. Some I have been to before and others I have not. Many of the trips are to places for only a few days and are set around meetings, conferences, or speaking engagements. I am often making plans at the last minute or having to make arrangements on the fly as ancillary meetings (not the prime reason I am there) get moved or cancelled. I am often looking for food, coffee, wifi, electronic stores, hardware stores, etc. in a location I am not completely familiar with. I am needing services of the local businessman, but I am not local.

The "Local Services"

You say, "there are many local services". Yes, there are Yahoo Local, Google Local, A9 Yellow Pages search, and other more local guides. But, none of them work on a mobile. There are Google SMS search and Mobile Yahoo, which has search that can tie to your local info, but if I am traveling I most likely have not save where I am looking for options.

Most modern phones know your location, they have to by law in the United States for emergency service calls. The phones do not provide easy access to that location software because the carriers providing the service do not want you to have it for free, they want somebody to pay for that information. If I call information they are not going to tell me where I am, nor the type of service or store I am seeking.

A Hack Finds "Where"

My current hack is to stand in front of a store, which I know the street name and I send the request for information about the place to Google SMS (ritual coffee. san francisco, ca) and I get one important piece of information back, the zip code. The zip code in the United States is the key to getting location information. There is nothing when driving (or actually riding as a passenger, because one never text messages while driving) or walking around that tells you the zip code (I have given up asking strangers on the street the zip code as it is more often than not incorrect). Once I have the zip code I can ask the mobile services for "coffee 94110" and get another place to get coffee and sit down because Ritual Coffee Roasters is utterly packed and already has seat vultures hovering.

Ministry of Silly Steps

Doing this little dance I get options, but it is a few steps that I should never have to take. The information most needed in a local search when mobile is location

Zip It, Zip, Z..

With the zip code I can dump that into my Mobile Yahoo! "new location" and get results. But, even because Yahoo! Mobile knows it is me (they offered me my stored locations (such as Home and Work)) it does not use that information to give me things I have reviewed and stored in Yahoo! Local. In the online version of Yahoo! Local I get reviews from people in my "community" (that really really needs to get a firm understanding of the granular social network), which is often helpful (if I know the person and can adjust my perception because I know how close that person's preferences are to mine on that subject). Sometimes I need an extension cord or an Apple Store (or a good substitution).

Elsewhere: Missing Even Partial Solutions

Additionally, this only works in the United States. The global local versions of Yahoo don't have fleshed out local services that are anything close to what is available in the United States and my "community" (as imperfect of an approach as it is at the moment) is still more helpful at filtering than nothing and I know I have many people in my "community" that have not only been to the same locations I am in, but have reviewed restaurants, local stores, etc. on the web and I want to be able to pull that information back in. Yes, this means the services need to grasp and embrace digital identity to make this work (or just build a social network capable address book that knows who my friend's identities are on various other services and social networking tools where this information may be sitting - not rocket science by any means). I heard some native language services were around, but those would not be fully helpful to me (I think I could get through it however), but if I tried a service that did not work it is not pointing me to one that does (now that would be insanely helpful and I would likely go to the kind service people for everything first as they would point me to just the right place every time).

Ya Beats Goo

Well at least Yahoo! understands there are places outside the United States. Google's services are not there, or any where on the mobile front it seems. In my last trip to Europe nobody knew that Google offered these services, which it seems they do not, in one of the most mobile use intensive cultures in the Western Hemisphere.


I know, enough. I agree. We need mobile information that works. WiFi is not here everywhere. Even if it were I am not foolish enough to pull out my laptop to try and get a signal and then get the information I need. I have a mobile device with the perfect capability to do just this. Actually there are more than double (if not triple - can not put my fingers on this info) the users with this capability on their mobile than laptop users in the United States (foolishly most laptops do not have locative hardware in them to ease this possibility if it was your last possibility). The technologies are here. Why are we not using them?

Local InfoCloud and Community

by Thomas Vander Wal in , ,

I have been thinking about the Local InfoCloud and its role lately. Viewing the world through the InfoCloud lenses has found some rough edges around the Local InfoCloud, initially defined by information accessible because of location or membership to a closed group. The location component makes sense, but it really also needs to include community.

I have recently read Ramesh Srinivasan's Village Voice: Expressing narrative through community-designed ontologies (his MIT master's thesis). In Village Voice Ramesh uses the following definitions of community from Brian Smith (et al.):

  • Ethnic/political communities: These are communities that may have no proximity, yet have a common political identity, or ethnic background. A variety of web sites have been designed to allow these groups to come together.

  • Geographic communities: These are communities that have physical bounds. These sites aim to complement the face-to-face interaction that already occurs.

  • Virtual communities: Virtual communities are groups that come together based on a common interest that the web medium makes possible.

  • Demographic communities: A number of web-based demographic communities have emerged to serve various constituencies. Web sites that are based upon a demographic community are growing in popularity.

  • Activity-based communities: These communities are defined by a shared activity such as shopping,making music, or playing games.

This connection between Local InfoCloud and communities is one that seems paired in the following manner as it pertains to the InfoClouds. The Global InfoCloud is all the information available to everybody, if one can find it. The Local InfoCloud is that information that is protected by a firewall, membership, or by interest. Adding interest as means of grouping and providing social interaction, which also provides organizational understanding (such as vocabulary, common ideas, and cultural understanding). The distinct social implications of information, whether it is by discipline, work, or other community have similar traits that are different from the Global InfoCloud and the Personal InfoCloud and it stands between the two in the middle ground.

Location is still important to this InfoCloud as our proximity to information and information reuse in the context of location is important. The context of location drives need, but so does social context that comes from community, in relatively similar ways.

Does it make sense to keep the name Local InfoCloud, or would Community InfoCloud be more appropriate? If there is a change, does it make sense to go back and change all the preceding documents or just deal from this point forward.

Good Bye to the User?

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

One of the side-effects of my focus on the Personal InfoCloud has been finding putting the focus on the person gets to more options than focussing on the "user". When doing user interviews for existing systems and sites, we are interviewing people. These people we ask: What works for them; what is missing; What are the devices they use; What locations do they use the information; In what context do they use the information; and How do they reuse and repurpose the information (as some of the questions). These are real people supplying the answers.

In the past we roll-up these people's answers and build an user persona. In rolling up we are building one or many common users and try to generalize. This simplification of the problem set we build to starts to limit our solutions. If one percent or less of our user base is using a mobile device to access information or our application do we throw them out of the persona? Normally, we would tend to do this and focus on a higher portion of our population.

But, in building a user-centered approach we can miss some of the easy solutions that will help the people that are part of the smaller populations. By keeping the person with the mobile needs in the mix, we are able to build scenarios and solutions that will work across many device needs. The steps between a desktop/laptop web browser only community and many mobile devices is relatively small. The difference to the desktop/laptop user is minimal, but to the mobile user it can be the difference between having access to information when it is needed and not having access at all when the information is needed most (like working remotely on a project that is 50 miles from the nearest landline and internet connection).

As we look at providing solutions we base our choices on users who make up a large percentage of our population. Lets take the 80/20 rule, we build for 80 percent of our users with 20 percent of the work. Sounds good, until we realize that one in five users are left out of the equation. By focussing on the person, we can look at extending our success. Often by building more than one solution into our products or one interface metaphor (folders versus tags for storing e-mail) we can provide better solutions that work for more people. Does this add complexity? Many times, yes it adds complexity on the design and development side, but knowing early enough in the process we can build more open and more flexible systems that lead to greater adoption. Not, only do we get greater adoption, but we open up the potential for uses beyond what we designed into being.

No two people are alike and we should build toward this reality so that there is choice, freedom, and ease. The more granular approach does not completely wipe out the user personas, but greatly enhances their functionality. Go back to the original people interviewed and use them in scenario planning for their needs across their contexts and tasks. How well does what we are designing work for them? How different will a solution need to be to have it work for them? Do these users have older technology? Do we want to rule people out categorically or can we do a little more work and be inclusive?

Focussing on the person and the granularity is where things get more difficult, but this is where we can make huge differences. This is what we get paid for right?

Recent Speaking Engagements

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , , , ,

I have posted the last three presentations I have given in the last five days. The presentations and a little about each presentation are available as follows: IA for the Personal InfoCloud from the IA Summit, Folksonomy: A Wrapper's Delight a panel at the IA Summit, and The Blog as Personal Knowledge Managment from a panel at the local Potomac Chapter of ASIS&T.

Some of the ideas and themes in these will bubble up here fairly soon. I am also speaking in Austin at SXSW Interactive Festival this upcoming Sunday. Stop by and say hello.

Two Sides of the Local InfoCloud

by Thomas Vander Wal in , , , , ,

The Local InfoCloud (one of four clouds, Personal, Local, Global, and External) focusses on access to information that is based on location, as well as membership. These two elements are related, but also can stand on their own.

The Local InfoCloud often uses the Local Area Network (LAN) as an example of its properties. The information on the LAN is open to all that are connected to the network and in many cases have rights to access the information. The information is not organized by the user nor categorized by them. The need to be connected in an office to the LAN is not as important as folks can access by Wide Area Network (WAN) or through an Internet portal that will securely provide access. The Internet portal then allows a mobile user to access the information, which breaks the need to be in a certain location.

Conversely, a mobile user may have access to information based on their location. Projects like Urban Tapestries show what is coming with location-based information. Commonly location-based services have been tied to GPS navigation services in cars that explain with the closest ATM, parking garage, restaurant, etc. are located in relation to your current position. Interacting with digital repositories to provide a review of a restaurant that is accessible in front of the restaurant, or the history of a building when standing in front of the building is also part of the Local InfoCloud. It too is not user organized or user categorized.

The two most important properties of the Local InfoCloud are location and membership. Location is obvious, but membership is less of a obvious relationship to the local moniker. However, membership is often associated with joining with others that have a common interest, bond, or goal. Membership can be framed as a nearness of interests and exclusive of those that do not have an interest. The members have drawn together as they have that common attraction. The Internet connection easily allows this type of grouping to occur.