January 27, 2012

Rumination on Social Forces

Every morning, I start my day getting caught up on the tech news and latest happenings in the world. All of these products continue to tout their social capabilities or how they perform better with a social effect. Everywhere you turn, it seems that tech companies are baking a social aspect into their products. Is this always a good idea and should the inclusion of these social features help? That depends entirely on the social forces involved.

For a few years now, we've heard about the social effect and how it's helped increase users. RIM's BBM program has been wildly successful in bringing new users into the devices, powered all by a simple list of people you connect with. Yet, I've been troubled that the concept seems over general. In particular, I'm troubled that some of these social forces seem to lose their power when the users leave. Sticking with BBM, the application loses any amount of pull for me if everyone I know and communicate with happen to use iPhones. In that case, the iMessage app has all the power until my friends decide to switch back to BlackBerries.

Just like electrical forces in nature, social forces seem to belong to two different camps - weak social forces and strong social forces. A weak social force is one where the entire social value for the user is based on people they want to interact with also using the software, product or system. Communication and collaboration products fit into this camp. A strong social force is one where the social value doesn't come from who you interact with but instead the activity is better when you interact with someone else. Games and gaming are a strong example here - I don't care who I play on XBox Live but the games seem more fun when I'm playing against another human with the same skill level instead of the computer AI.

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Dan Hable