The right way to do social

The technology industry moves incredibly fast, from one bubble to another. Web 2.0. Online auctions. (Remember when the Internet was filled with hundreds of eBay clones?) Social. Mobile. Location-based. Big Data. Whatever.

I don’t think anyone will call me insightful for observing that the general idea of “social” had a peak in its hype cycle some time ago. I’d say three years ago was really the peak. At some point, lots of people were excited about applying social-ness to everything. Social was going to be the way everything happened in the future. Businesses were going to revolutionize the way internal communications happened by making everything social. Government was going to be more transparent by being social. We were all going to be constantly tuned in to all this frenzy of everything happening – events, information, whatnot – and it would all be saturated with socialness. (This sounds like a new level of hell to me, but some people thought it was a good thing.)

There were basically no bounds to what social could do. IT was going to get more agile through things like social monitoring, for example, like Nodeable. It’s since been renamed and pivoted entirely, but what I remember was that people chit-chatting and promoting/liking/recommending and having relevance-based feeds about system problems was going to improve the signal-to-noise ratio of monitoring alerts, and allow IT staff to focus on stuff that really needed to be fixed.

Social became a golden hammer. Got a social hammer? Everything looks like a social nail. Bang, bang, bang. Solve it with social, get rich with social.

Personally, I have no use for most social media. I tried Facebook for a few months. It’s a platform for little info-bites that are distracting, pleasing, fun, endorphin-releasing. But in my opinion, it is not a way to meaningfully engage with people I really care about on a deep level. So I deactivated my account. Google is trying to go the same route with Google+ and I have no use for that either. The idea that a crowd of people babbling is going to produce something relevant and actually valuable for me, is not something I agree with. Both Facebook and Google+ are this way. I would much rather pull my content from carefully selected places than have it pushed to me by algorithms and the so-called “wisdom of crowds.”

In other words, most social media seems to me to be more about popularity than relevance, value, or meaningfulness. I truly do not care what other people think about pictures or events or celebrities or news or whatever. Their opinions have a very small chance of matching mine. Opinion-based social is just another name for popularity-based social. I have observed that the things I value the most are often the least popular. Just look at how most world governments are run and it’s easy to see that crowd-pleasing things and sensible things are pretty much mutually exclusive.

But there is more than one way to do social.

There’s real, enduring value in the concepts of social. Take a look at Github. It isn’t promoted as “the social coding platform where code gets social and social is how the code is socialized,” but their TITLE tag talks about making better code together. Use their service and what do you do? You have conversations in issues. You have comments on commits and pull requests. You can @mention people. You interact with other coders via code, code itself becomes conversational, and coders have meta-conversations on those conversations. It’s totally social. Heck, Git itself, by its very design, is social.

But Github is not overtly social. That’s the difference. They don’t act as if social is first, and code hosting and issue tracking is secondary. They don’t act as if the core value proposition is socialness and code hosting is just the medium through which they do it.

I think that’s the right way to do it. Take a solid business idea – code hosting and revision control and so on – and add the ability for people to have meta-interactions around it, where it makes sense and actually enriches the core of the business.

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I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and lots of open-source software for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB. More about me.