Communication Internet Legal & Politics Social Media & Social Networking

Social Networks: your data, on-demand

There was a time when we created discrete, often well-formed by largely isolated island states of data. Then the Web went all two-point-oh, and oh how things changed…

In the first installment, I looked at the problem of Social Media Fatigue and a possible cure. The cure being an open, secure and portable means of describing you and your stuff that the various Social Networks would make use of.

In the second installment on Social Networks, I talked about Social Networking while mobile.

And in the third installment, I looked at a possible coming together of worlds, those being the existing Social Networks with those other three dimensional Social Networks like Second Life and There.

In this final installment, I will delve into the subject of UGC (User Generated Content) data, cold filtered and always-on tap.

More signal in an ocean of noise

A regular source of clinical, yet succinct and compact descriptions of web things is a certain Tim O’Reilly, commenting on the subject of collective intelligence:

“No one would characterize Google as a ‘user generated content’ company, yet they are clearly at the very heart of Web 2.0. That’s why I prefer the phrase “harnessing collective intelligence” as the touchstone of the revolution.”

Web 2.0 is just a marketing slogan, one that underscores iterative but fundamental change in the kind of nomenclature that us ‘Netizens are more comfortable with:

“I defined Web 2.0 as “the design of systems that harness network effects to get better the more people use them.” Getting users to participate is the first step. Learning from those users and shaping your site based on what they do and pay attention to is the second step.”

But what Tim doesn’t mention here – but I suspect he will have said elsewhere – is the way that these clumps of data can be forced to coalesce in intriguing ways.

We call this coming together of web services Mashups, which is how disparate sources of data are combined and manipulated in useful ways.

The big play these days is UGC (User Generated Content), which makes this stuff more personal.

I think an important part of (eek! gotta say it again) Web 2.0 is that it exposes our data in new ways. Our data – more often than not encapsulated in the eminently portable RSS format – is ours to combine, move, filter, sort, manipulate and even distort in any way we like.

I’m not sure how many people realize what a truly monumental change this concept is.

I’m of the generation who was very much used to my data being locked down. In fairness, this was more an artifact of there not being suitable or standardized ways of making my data portable, other than doing an export from the source database.

But now, our stuff is ours to take with us no matter where we may roam.

Does micro-blogging equal micro-data?

What with the many ‘blogging platforms around today, equipping almost everyone with the tools to publish their life or work story, then micro-blogging, enabling people ‘blog while mobile, we are at a point where we’re the arbiters of what is and is not a success on the world wide web.

Democracy of a fashion has descended upon the ‘Net. Empowering thee & me with the might to make soar or sink one kind of content or another on the web. And similarly, armed with convergent mobile devices, our dialogue needn’t be confined to our office or our home.

It’s entirely possible to post video ‘blogs from your mobile phone. But be warned, technology isn’t always used for the right things, especially when it comes to ‘entertainment’:

“Anyone familiar with the hot topics in the news recently will have read about the ‘happy slapper’ idiots who go around beating the bejesus out of people, film the attack on their mobile phones and then post the video onto the web.

This is new technology enabling stupid people to do bad things. Worse still, the whole craze is entirely dependent on these arguably nascent technologies.”

The bottom line here is, technology doesn’t make people bad, nor make them good. The reality is, technology enables people to do stuff.

Yep, that’s all there is to it! People will always find a way to do their thing and technology is often the principle enabler.

In this instance, questionable UGC is a dish often served cold, hard and fast.

If so, does micro-propaganda equal micro- or macro-politics?

And more recently, the crown atop the head of Wikipedia has slipped as politics and revisionist propaganda slipped under the radar:

“The credibility of the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has taken another dive after a newly developed software program exposed how the CIA, corporations like Diebold and others routinely edit entries to bury criticism and manipulate the truth.

In our previous investigation, we revealed how a group of trolls were engaged in a concerted campaign to erase the 9/11 truth movement, along with a host of other controversial subjects, out of cyber existence by voting to delete pages about subjects and individuals that obviously warrant a page on Wikipedia.”

Lamentable, that’s one word that springs to mind. Sickening is another.

So as we pour our time & effort into sharing knowledge and attempting to build trusted sources of UGC, hidden hands make light work of those topics their hairless white fingers fail to touch and coldly influence in the real world.

Ugh! Gross Content? Uhm, Great Content?

While the latter examples probably paint a bleak picture, don’t let this picture skew your personal fix on the horizontal and the vertical of all things UGC.

The future of User Generated Content is one of continued growth.

I’ve not even touched on some of the video sharing services, such as the ever-mentionable YouTube, or any of the other video sharing services whose names I can’t think of because it’s getting really late here and I’m tired.

[Pause for breath…]

What better way to add true value to any service than to allow it’s users to not just add their stuff in, but share their stuff with friends and in some way own their stuff?

And the principle defining ingredient of any Social Network is the data that drives such things. The lingua franca of Social Networks. That cohesive social glue that binds the Social Networks of the web to the real world.

And that data is you – your likes & dislikes, your music, your lifestyle, your photos, your opinions and your social & cultural background.

Now that’s data…

Recommended reading

By Wayne Smallman

Wayne is the man behind the Blah, Blah! Technology website, and the creator of the Under Cloud, a digital research assistant for journalists and academics.