Where is Social Networking Software Going and What Will Be Its Impact on Our Industry?

Predicting the future is always difficult. But the final panel of the day made a valiant effort. It took the form of a series of questions posed by the moderator, Phil Bradley (photo above) and the audience, which generated a wonderful free-flowing discussion. Here are the questions and a sampling of the answers.

What is social software and Web 2.0?

“We’ve been arguing about this for 3 years!”

It is defined by five key characteristics of Web 2.0/social networking sites:
Simplicity: They do a single job very well.
Functionality: They actually solve a problem.
They are gregarious, not just social and encourage sociability.
Open: They are accessible by users.
Evolving: They have a tight feedback loop into users’ behavior and adapt to it.

Social networking improves the more people that use it. (Examples are Flickr, which allows user tagging and WordPress which has a spam detection feature that improves with increasing use.)

What changes will occur in organizations as a result of this software?

Many changes will occur because software is cheap. No high level approvals in an organization are needed to set them up.

Corporate consequences to social networking have been rehearsed in academia, so we can look there for an example.

As networks in companies grow, there will be tensions between imposed network practices and social networking. Imposed structures will eventually break.

If you don’t want innovation, don’t bother with social networking! But you can’t stop innovation because people will start using their own laptops, etc. and circumvent the IT department. The meaning of work is changing.

Who cares about working in an office any more? I can meet people online and work with them online without having to see them face to face.

People are now willing to contribute their work freely, and they will find other like-minded people to do it.

Why/how is what you do related to the purposes and objectives of organizations? Who is leading? Is what you do overriding objectives?

We’re finding ways of listing to networks of people and helping them. We’re making the organization more transparent. Good innovation doesn’t mean constantly launching new products.

Who sets the objectives? They should come from the customer instead of top management. Social networking is a way of getting objectives organically. The Google Reader team looks at blogs every day to see what people are saying about their product, and that drives their plans and objectives for it.

Institutions tend to patronize people and put restrictions on them. They do not trust them to do the right thing. This software gives people freedom to publish, seek out their colleagues, etc., so they view these tools with enthusiasm.

What do you say to people when they ask you why you’re doing this?

People passionate about something can find others with the same passion and do things together. That changes human contact in a mind-blowing way.

People can meet others through their needs. It’s not just for young people or geeks! People are finding that there are better ways of doing things online.

People’s expectations about what they get from communication are changing. Now they have the right of reply without having any restrictions. People expect to be able to have their say. How many people know what you think about an issue? Online, you can create a space where people can express themselves. This is a very rich method of communicating, which has a much greater impact when you can explain to the world what you think and how you think. (See Twitter for an example of a social networking platform that facilitates communication.)

What are the negatives in the future of social software?

Work and home life are collapsing together. Some companies are buying their employees the same tools and hardware for both work and home. That totally blurs work and life time.

There is a feeling that if you stop communicating, everything will pass you by because the environment is changing so fast. It will be important to have tools to let us keep up with things.

Software assumes transparency and performance. Not everything you do fits best with this kind of a network. We need to find ways of defining different areas of privacy and keeping private things private and pay attention to the friction points. People need to become more careful about what they put online and regard everything you do as if it will be on the front page of the New York Times.

How will old media fit into the web2.0 world?

Most advanced media are reinventing themselves as community builders. Local media have become increasingly important. Newspapers need to develop community. The national titles are in the most trouble.

There is still a huge audience that wants to read paper. But classified ads have gone to the web, so display advertising is in trouble. Where will newspapers make their money in the future? Social networking is undermining many business models. For example, newspapers don’t sell news, they sell audiences. You can get news anywhere! The one thing people want to do is talk—discuss, debate, etc. Media need to facilitate this and involve the reader in the publication.

What a wonderful panel this was! And what a fascinating view of the future it envisions! It will be interesting to come back next year or the year after and see how many of these predictions have been fulfilled.

Don Hawkins
Columnist, Information Today

One Response to “Where is Social Networking Software Going and What Will Be Its Impact on Our Industry?”

  1. Tom Roperhttp://tomroper.typepad.com December 3, 2006 at 9:29 pm #

    It’s very impressive, especially the way the team cover so many different events, from different angles.