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Social Objects

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Some of the earliest social networking sites to gain traction (Six Degrees, Friendster) ran into a "now what?" wall. After one had signed up, filled out a profile, found friends and made connections, there wasn't really much of anything to do there. The sites lacked a model of a social object, without which there were no activities besides trying to create a scale-model of one's own real life social graph.

As discussed in the introduction to this section (Things to Do), just about any activity a person can engage with through a social interface is going to involve social objects. These are the various pieces of media and pointers and descriptions of things that we can collect, share, publish, comment on, collaborate together around, and so on.

The Social Object, in a nutshell, is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else. Human beings are social animals. We like to socialize. But if think about it, there needs to be a reason for it to happen in the first place. That reason, that "node" in the social network, is what we call the Social Object.

Hugh Macleod, Social Objects for Beginners

When designing your social interfaces, ask yourself what social objects belong in the architecture and how you are going to support them. What activities are you going to make possible to enable people to engage with each other around these social objects?

How often do people generate new instances of the object? This question should replace the "who's your target customer?" question because your main target are probably the same people who generate lots of instances of the object. If a lot of people generate new objects often, ads+subscriptions probably make sense. If they don't use it that often but the social networking adds a lot of value (as when looking for a book, car, real estate), then you need higher-value ads and/or transactions. If it's the sort of object that few people create, but those who do do it lots, you're probably talking about a hobbyist or professional audience (e.g. Dogster for petlovers) and might be able to tap into its special channels to figure out a business model

Jyri Engeström, What Makes a Good Social Object

Thomas Vander Wal's essay goes here:

Social objects are distributed primarily through Sharing and Publishing.


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