Treading water in the shallow end of social

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It has been a few years since I was actively thinking about social software and the distance likely adds validity to some more recent observations. One of the simplest ways to integrate end-user facing technology is to aggregate information. The rise of the portal for good or bad encourages this concept of adding tiles on a grid enabling you to overwhelm yourself with information – intelligently or not. Visual aggregation as a method of integration is really an unacceptable place for social software to plateau. The most successful experiences create a context for multiple streams to come together. However, more could be done to integrate complimenting information and capability so that a new expression is created instead of a schizophrenic newspaper no one really wants to read or interact with.

Consider what you have seen in the social software landscape and ask yourself why the actor is almost always the sense maker. Why is it that there is an explosion of great social islands but a pathetic showing on how to leverage that information to create richer, contextual spaces? Most of the time solution designers attempt to create context employing a nicely designed banner and carefully selected color pallet. Unfortunately, the skin is only but a small element of context and while I believe that people are ultimately required to appreciate the meaning of a given confluence, we could do a better job surfacing interesting information and enabling interaction. One of the fatal flaws with traditional portals is the visual and physical boundary of information. There was a time when products enabled connecting one portlet to another, but failed to resolve that portlets do not inherently know how to collaborate with each other, a design activity outside of the technology. Unfortunately, some of our best examples of dynamic experience modification are also some of the most annoying commercial applications. You have to love the real-time markup of content where hovering over a word opens a thought bubble and video obscuring the content. Given a strong page framework and similar techniques integration could be this fluid and easily less irritating – a very simple example, abused, justly hated and hopefully soon to be abandoned.

Opportunities to do more have been around for years, and yet it feels as if the social technology landscape has just stalled. The best work is not even web bound, but device focused now. There is so much to do; I would think it would inspire people to push a little harder to realize the next revolution of user experience instead of hanging out in the kiddy pool all day.