The Future of Social Objects – SNSs of 2010 – Part III

Social objects are the vital concept for online communities. They are the focal point of the interaction, discussion, and sometimes even connection between users. I touched on their role in Social Network Strategy for Web Services. Now I want to briefly highlight a few trends involving social objects and the evolution of social network platforms.

Synchronous Socializing

So far, most interaction around social objects has been asynchronous: I post a comment about a video, you see it and respond later. Soon, social network services will offer the ability to simultaneously communicate while viewing pieces of digital content. Creating a conversation is very powerful; it’s the difference between exchanging recipes, and actually cooking together.

Facebook is an SNS that’s already taken the first step, providing a site-wide Facebook chat utility. What’s lacking (for now) in the chat client is an awareness of context. I can already instant message a friend a Facebook photo link through any one of a dozen IM clients; but only Facebook’s client can have an awareness of: a) what content on Facebook I’m viewing, b) my network (as it relates to that content), and c) the network of the content owner.

There are dozens of potential applications for synchronous socializing around social objects. A few:

  • TV/Online Video. Hulu + SNS-enabled chat = a winning web TV platform.
  • Music. Not listening by itself, but joint music discovery. This would be killer for MySpace,, or web radio stations.
  • Web browsing. There have been plenty of attempts to do this from scratch, but the social- and interest-based context a SNS can provide makes it much more feasible.

Outside Their Own Backyard

As user adoption rates for SNSs slow, they’ll need to expand their usefulness to attract new users. That doesn’t mean adding new features Swiss army style, but increasing the utility of their platform for their particular social object(s). Recognizing and aggregating objects from outside the site, and connecting to other services related to those objects is a key way of doing so.

Partially, that means the same kind of import options, and B2B partnerships other tech companies/services have done for years, but that SNSs haven’t seen a need for yet. The more innovative part is becoming the kind of semantic creator I talked about in How the Semantic Web Will & Won’t Work, and providing useful tools for working with interacting with external objects.

Costs of Content Create New Clouds

For many SNSs, social objects aren’t a specific type of information or interest, but an actual piece of digital content. In these cases, as SNSs grow, their infrastructure needs will also grow. Digital media is exploding in any case, but the rise of persistent communities around pieces of media create the opportunity for improved storage and distribution networks. I would not be surprised to see SNS platforms also operate as content delivery networks, either as a traditional CDN, or through a peer-to-peer solution that doubles synchronous socializing with distributed content delivery.

The community dynamics around social networks and online interaction are still being studied, even as the technology making them possible evolves. It’s an exciting area to watch, and an even more exciting area to be a pioneer in, with News Armada. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the online communities of the future.

This is the third article in a series, Social Networking Services of 2010. Part I focuses on Recommendation & Review Integration, and Part II announces the coming of True Social Software.