Want to see Tantek’s presention on Microformats? Notes from Tom Coates’ presentation?

If you missed the Future of Web Apps, catch Tantek’s presentation on Microformats here.

Here are copius notes I took on another very interesting presentation:

Tom Coates, Yahoo!
Directions in social change on the web
Plasticbag.org (his blog)

Works a rapid prototyping unit in London, working on social software stuff.
Used to be a Classicist – studying ancient Greece and Rome

How people can interact to make something together that’s greater than the sum of their parts. That help them operate more efficiently and effectively together than they do alone.

  • Alphabet and writing
  • Justice and government
  • Invention of money

Good social software:

  • Worth the users’ time to use it. User gets value from it. (individual motives)
  • These contributions provide value to their peers (social value)
  • The organization that hosts the service deries aggregate value and can expose this back to the users (business value)

Consensus Model – Many contributions make one voice (Wikipedia) – Generates canonical or definitve representations in data)

Polyphony Model – Many voices with emergent order (Flickr) – Generates lots of material, makes it comprehensible

Consensus Model discussion:

  • Theoretically should not work. Wiki works b/c there is a goal everyone is working toward and strong structure. This is a bad, non-replicable model unless you have a clear strong mission.
  • There are 1000 appointed administrators. 52 subcategories under Wikipedia Administration on Wikipedia. The reason it’s survived is b/c of this enormous political organization.Openstreetmap.org is another example. Born from the fact that street maps are owned by the Queen.Musicbrainz – for getting new sources of data about music.
  • These groups tend to have a natural life cycle and then it dies.

Polyphony Discussion

  • Much more replicable of a model – YouTube, Delicious, Last.fm etc
  • Communicaty motives – Peter Kollack
    • Antiticipated reciprocity
    • Reputation
    • Sense of Efficacy (feeling like you’re having some kind of effect on the world)- Undermines the idea that everyone only wants money, power, and to win
    • Identification with a group
  • Open source motives
    • Learning to code
    • Gaining reputation
    • Scratching an itch
    • Contributing to the commons
    • Stick it to Microsoft
  • Why people use social services
    • Sharing without really knowing it (eg Delicious)
    • Saving for personal use
    • Sharing with friends for various motives
    • Sharing with interest communities (very different than with friends)
    • Self _expression / showing off
    • Altruism / good of the world


  • Motivations change depending on the social motive
  • Certain models work depending on the motivations (more individual vs. more social / public)

Openstreetmap example vs. Flickr Maps
Zonetag – Collective useful info about a place related to photos / mobile

Incentives – Be wary of clumsy incentives like money, points and competition.

  • Money is bad — Will atttract spammers who want to milk money from the community.
  • Points – Rewarding the right kind of behavior is tricky
    (Article by Richard Bargles – Players who suit MUDs).

    • Diamonds – interested in achievement
    • Spades – exploring
    • Hearts – People interested in socialing
    • Clubs – More interested in winning / imposition on othersUsers may move between motivations in the lifecycle of playing a game.If one of these types of users isn’t rewarded the whole thing unravels. No one gets any value out of it.

      Digg example – Some go find links. Others come and read and get value from content displayed. Some participate a little more and Digg things.

      If you rewarded any one of these activities, Digg would fall apart. Would have unbalance.

      They expose metrics and are able to balance people who are competitive in one area with others competitive in other areas.

  • Social Value
    • Last.fm –
    • Flickr – 250 million pics, all with clean permissions.
    • over 5 million geo coded
    • Knowledge of which photos are interesting and tagged

Open up social value

  • Expose every axis of data you can
  • Give people a place to represent themselves
  • Allow them to associate, connect and form relationships with one another
  • Help them annotate, rate and comment
  • Look for ways to expose this data back onto the siteAPIs are cool!Not all user need to participate to generate social value

Things that can go wrong

  • Be careful of user expectations around how private or public their contribution is. (Facebook RSS feed fubar example – Was public but was difficult to collect. They added a new page so everyone could see what you were doing on the site.)
  • Be wary of monocultures – Evidencing the most value the community produces vs. making so only the same kind of people want to use it. (e.g. Digg home page currently)

Business value

  • Find ways to make money other than owning data (premium accts, services that help you do valuable things) – like Flickr
  • Attention and advertising
  • Rise of aggregate data
    • License data initially selectively
    • Increasingly fluid and commoditized services emerge with flat rate card data provisions
    • Until finally data services generated by distributed communities emerge and take over

(I have no idea what those last few bullets mean btw :0)


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