To some extent, there is a selfish reason why people participate in social applications. The system should reciprocate by delivering some degree of personal value back to that individual. Blogs enable people to establish their own voice. Wikis enable people to contribute content. Social bookmark systems make it easy for users to assign their own meaning (via tags) to information, categorize information in a manner that makes sense to them as an individual, and re-find the information later. Without this type of quid-pro-quo inherent in the user experience, users may not become engaged enough to participate to any great degree.
While some scenarios for social software are goal-oriented, there is a great deal of serendipity in how social systems are actually used by its participants. Blogs may be intended to capture comments and observations related to a project or work process but can also easily be extended to discuss other concerns of its author(s). Wikis can be intended to act as a formal reference site (e.g., an internal version of Wikipedia). But the same wiki can just as easily be extended to act as a place where communities of practice coordinate activities, share information, and notes on best practices that augment pages devoted to formal definitions. XML syndication platforms might allow users to save feed items into folders that can be re-published as feeds in their own right. This type of re-mixing can blend information from multiple sources into a highly refined channel to which any other number of employees might subscribe to without any formal knowledge from content publishers or web site owners. Social networking sites may become a critical pipeline for how employees discover which co-workers, alumni or partner might know a particular customer in order to gain a warm introduction (versus a “cold call”). Social applications need to be designed to accommodate spontaneous interaction.
The system should support ways for participants to establish a sense of community that helps promotes multiple levels of joint ownership, information sharing, relationship building and mutual trust. A wiki for instance becomes a more credible resource if there are passionate contributors and editors. A blog becomes more than a personal soapbox when it becomes inter-connected with other blogs and evolves into a mesh of inter-locked conversations. As more users participate in a social bookmark system, the clustering of tags acts as a mediation vehicle between people and information sources. User profile pages that reveal more about an individual’s past experiences, personal interests and membership in professional associations creates engagement points for other employees.
Fragmentation of social applications across disconnected infrastructure results in stovepipes that limit enterprise-wide value from social software (e.g., integration, overlap and conflicting tools or incompatible plug-ins). While this does necessarily mean a single platform, it does imply that “fewer are better”. Design implemented in a platform-centric manner often involves centralization of data and meta data as well as its data analysis and correlation capabilities. A platform-centric mindset is better able to provide a broad and public space for social interaction and contributions to coalesce into patterns and structures that can be more intelligently supported by underlying system services (e.g., attention management, personalization, recommendations).
Personal value: the system provides value to the individual user regardless of any broader participation.
Multiple personas: the system enables users to take on different “characters”
Informal interaction: The system is egalitarian and serendipitous, supporting emergent behavior.
Self-organizing participation: The system enables participants to become aware of situations in the network and synchronize actions based on community relations.
Self-determined connectivity: The system does not assign associations between people but can suggest associations – individuals elect to be connected based on relationship, information and activity affinity.
Collective user experience: The system is design with feedback loops that signal actions taken by others in the system.
Community-determined credibility: The system does not assign expertise or reputation based on formal sources but provides methods where expertise and reputation are the result of other member or network endorsements.
Community-influenced “findability”: The system is not a replacement for formal enterprise discovery tools but enables contacts and information sources to be discovered by relying on other members as search and connection filters.
Recombinant : The system supports user-driven creation and extension of platform capabilities (e.g., “mash-ups”).
Blends work style with lifestyle: The system provides a sense of personal ownership with appropriate interfaces to external services.