I wasn’t much involved or interested in social media (twitter and the likes) until I joined SCG a few month ago. I had a rather defensive attitude and wanted to have the smallest fingerprint on the web. For several reasons, I nevertheless started using Google Shared Link, Twitter, CiteULike and Stackoverflow to see how they worked.
I must admit that I kind of like them all, now that I overcame my initial resistance. But what I liked most is the surrounding questions on the evolution of the society. Here is a bunch of points I’m questioning myself about these days.
Ranking, reputation and suggestion system
The heart of these systems is to identify the value that the community gives to certain person or item (value is vague, maybe relevance or credibility would be better). This value can be mined using information about the network, or number of visit, etc. or by requesting user to vote. Purpose of these systems is to be fair, objective and democratic. Such systems are however complex to create. You need to design a set of rules that fit the purpose as well as a set of counter-mechanisms to eliminate abnormal behavior that still slip in (e.g. robot visit, abnormal pattern in user vote, etc.). Ultimately all such system have their own weakness. This wasn’t too a problem when we didn’t depend critically on such system, but this is now the case.
- When do such system stop to be evolvable because their mechanisms are too complicated?
- What can be the extreme consequence of an abuse or the change of a rule in such a system? What can be the impact on people or knowledge?
- What to think of “Evolution of dance” being top #1 on YouTube? How to prevent populism, snowball effect, slashdot effect?
- Do they really meet their goal of being fair, objective and democratic? Or do some feature alter their natural organic growth?
- Given the power that these “algorithms” represent, will we have law and audit for them in the future?
The value of our second life
How much value to give to the web presence of an individual? For instance, recruitement has already changed with the appearance of job sites first, but then of online CV. This tendency will continue and expand to all area of our life. We can expect in the future to have consolidated profile be used more and more prior to meeting people for real. You can’t just erase all that and start from sratch. This may seriously bias our opinion on people. Prejudges related to a our web presence may be hard to overcome. Our presence on the web will be a direct measure of our skills, as is the case for instance with stackoverflow QA and CV. Will this expand to other area? Will we soon see sentences such as “10+ meme on twitter is a plus” for people working in PR?
• How much should we trust this information?
• What is the “critical mass” that these systems must reach to really work?
• Does it represent the real soft- and social-skills of a person?
• Can we really sum up people with numbers?
• When will the first “single consolidate metric” appear that grades an individual according to its complete web presence?
Community vs. individual
The web was first driven by communities. People which contributed to the web, adhered to the value of these communities. However, if the tendency to expose single individual continues, there will more and more tension between the community aspects and the individual, selfish aspects. This tension isn’t new and has probably been studied since decades in sociology and psychology, but the expansion of this tension to the web is new. And the effect is unknown. Everybody will be an active player the Internet and not just a passive user, as during the past decade. We can then expect much more friction and instability in these social web site. Or maybe not.