Community, social networks, and technology at Supernova 2004

Some afterthoughtsfrom the Supernova conference, specifically about social networks andcommunity.  Though it's difficult to separate the different topics. 

A quick meta-note here: Supernova is itself a social network of peopleand ideas, specifically about technology -- more akin to a scientificconference than an industry conference.  And, it's making a lot of useof various social tools: http://www.socialtext.net/supernova/,http://supernova.typepad.com/moblog/.

Decentralized Work (Thomas Malone) soundsgood, but I think there are powerful entrenched stakeholders that canwork against or reverse this trend (just because it would be gooddoesn't mean it will happen).  I'm taking a look at The Future of Work right now; one first inchoate thought is how some of the same themes are treated differently in The Innovator's Solution.

The Network is People - a panel with Chrisopher Allen, Esther Dyson, Ray Ozzie, and Mena Trott.  Interesting/new thoughts:
  • Chris Allen on spreadsheets:  Theyare a social tool for convincing people withnumbers and scenarios, just like presentation software is for convincing people withwords and images.  So if you consider a spreadsheet social software, well, what isn't social software?
  • "43% of time is spent on grooming in large monkey troupes."  (But wait, what species of monkeys are we talking about here?  Where are our footnotes?)  So,the implication is that the amount of overhead involved in maintainingtrue social ties in large groups is probably very high.  Tools thatwould actually help with this (as opposed to just growing the size ofyour 'network' to ridiculous proportions) would be a true killer app. 
  • Sizeof network is not necessarily a good metric, just one that's easy tomeasure.  Some people really only want a small group.
Syndication Nation - panel with Tim Bray, Paul Boutin, Scott Rosenberg, Kevin Marks, Dave Sifry. I felt that this panel had a lot of promise but spent a lot of time onbackground and/or ratholing on imponderables (like business models). Kevin and Tim tried to open this up a bit to talk about some of the newpossibilities that automatic syndication offers.  At the moment, it'smostly about news stories and blogs and cat pictures.  Someinteresting/new thoughts:
  • Kevin statedthat # of subscribers to a given feed follows a power law almostexactly, all the way down to 1.  So even having a handful of readers isan accomplishment.  One might also note that this means the vastmajority of subscriptions are in this 'micropublishing' area.
  • New syndication possibilities mentioned: Traffic cameras for your favorite/current route. 
  • The Web is like a vast library; syndicated feeds are about what's happening now (stasis vs. change).  What does this mean?
  • The oneinteresting thing to come out of the how-to-get-paid-for-thisdiscussion: What if you could subscribe to a feed of advertising thatyou want to see?  How much more would advertisers pay forthis?  (Reminds me of a discussion I heard recently about radiostations going back to actually playing more music and lesstalk/commercials: They actually get paid more per commercial-minutebecause advertisers realize their ad won't be buried in a sea of crapthat nobody is listening to.)
More on some of the other topics later.