Few people think that technology increases sociability, according the "The Tech-Captured Life," a Roper Reports 2005 technology survey. In fact, 46% of "influentials" and 36% of all of those surveyed say computers and technology make people less sociable. I wonder if the concept of sociability was defined or examined as part of the survey? While the common interpretation is "Marked by or affording occasion for agreeable conversation and conviviality," in business, social activity generally takes on more of a goal-orientation, as in "social-networking." I know this latter term often arises in the context of online interaction and in conference programming, but ITI’s London Online blog and my recent experience with the annual EContent 100 List judging process have given me much food for thought into what a post-Web business-oriented social experience means.
For the first decade of widespread Web-enabled community, email has prevailed as the primary means of interaction. While it offers an almost instant means of communication and the potential for a persistent record of that information, it suffers from one-sided, un-inflected and, frankly, non-interactive (at least not in a real-time give-and-take context) limitations. (How often has too quickly sent or even carefully crafted email been misinterpreted?) While there were many early forays into virtual communities, bulletin boards, and the like, early interactive Web tools lacked the ease of use to draw in large non-technical audiences and still relegated much of the "community" control to that of a Web master. Yet, like the information industry as a whole, online communication and community continues to evolve.
The first year the EContent 100 list was compiled, a small group of judges met in a conference room and conference-call connected to one or two remote consultants. The next two years, a group of subject-matter experts from around the US and UK worked together through copious email exchanges and cut-and-paste Excel hell. Last year, we began to use real time collaborative tools: first Groove then a Socialtext Wiki this year. While Groove provided some impressive technological options, the Wiki gave us many of the real-time (or as we had time) communication options combined with a very humanizing touch: the easy ability to contribute to any topic, change any page, or add any content by any member of the team. Wiki’s–at least from what I’ve seen today–need that latter component to really work, though. They require the self-serving, self-motivated commitment by a team to garner participation and as such, have not yet leant themselves effectively to remote conference coverage.
While ITI’s London Online blog provides those of us who did not attend the event a level of insight into the event, written by some impressive industry thought leaders, I came away feeling like an outsider (who wished I was at the show because the on-site bloggers made it seem fascinating and fun). I would not, however, say that this blog or any other serves to decrease sociability, however. I think that technologies like Wiki’s and blogs are actually, finally, humanizing technology–making it easy enough and accessible enough that we will find ourselves with another interpretation of socializing.