IBM card punch machine, 1964.
I've been thinking for some time now of a new theory of what could be called "socialware". I don't see anybody else using this term except some Koreans in 2002 or something, but I think it might be a good term to use to describe the next stage, as long as it can be kept free of any connotation of "socialist" which of course for some, is what social media is *for*. That's not the idea.
First, there was hardware, which worked mechanically. Even the instructions to make it work were mechanical, hole-punching cards. Years ago I worked in offices where the computers took up an entire room and we were kept busy managing the cards and being careful not to fold, spindle or mutilate them.
Then came software, which was on discs that you put in the machines to run them, but you had to be careful not to magnetize or spill coffee on those floppy discs, and then they became smaller -- and breaking the corners off them became an issue. Then it was about downloads that took forever, and then about downloads that were fast but wonky. More and more, computers in fact got harder to use even as they got more ubiquitous, because there were all sorts of menus, wizards, filters, anti-virus to keep malware-free, etc. etc. But basically you, as a user, had nothing to do with the machines, the hardware, except when you might risk your motherboard and install a graphics card, or even the software, which you usually took sight-unseen already installed when you bought the machine, or had a geek install and then tried to use with all the non-user-friendly help menus and giant impersonal knowledge bases where you'd be sent if you went to a website.
Now I think it's time for the third stage of the evolution of these computing and communicating machines, which is socialware. And this is the creation, through software, on the hardware of servers, of programs that people use as "social media," i.e. to interact with each other in real time or asynchronously, and to collaborate and build things together. And I think now is a good time for the engineers and geeks who dominated the hardware and software scenes all these decades, because of the technical complexities, to step aside, and certainly ratchet down quite a few notches the insular and insolent geek culture they developed around these machines and their code, which I've called The Geek Religion, and to start to realize that they are no longer alone, unaccountable, and arrogantly in charge anymore with this new stage of development of machines impacting people more directly and intimately.
What socialware means is that user feedback isn't just an option, just a nice "customer relations" add-on module, where you incorporate "uility," as ichabod and Khamon have said on comments to my post about MMOX. What it means is that it is consciously incorporated into the software instructions as much as an automatic routine would be, to make the mechanisms of democracy more explicit and usable and validated.
So that means that opensource creators of social media and virtual worlds no longer get to say that because they code it, they own it (one of the fallacies of the "opensouce ownership" is that everyone owns it; in fact, only coders own it) and they "get to say what it does" because they are "not paid" and if you don't like it "patch or get the fuck out". Sure, anybody can sandbox away to their heart's content, but when you make a world with people in it, or a free social media service with people in it, they get to decide what it's about *too*. This is very hard for engineers and coders to accept: they think they should decide everything, and they know everything, and know what's best. But they don't. There are all kinds of other walks of life besides computer science, even if everything is digitalized. The ubiquitousness of the digital doesn't mean that the users of the digitalized Internet and its related machines are outside the production equation. No, they are most decidedly inside it now.
Oh, you say, I can rant on about this all I like, but freedom of the code belongs to him who codes? Well, not exactly, because if you build social media for free, or build a free virtual world service, and people come and you get to use them as load testers or even charge them for use of the services, you enter into a social if not legal contract, and no longer can you expect to code in isolation. In fact, to succeed, those making virtual worlds and social media services had better grasp this sooner rather than later (Mark Zuckerberg still hasn't grasped it, despite the faceless Facebook apology for the recent TOS debacle). That means that intrinsic to -- and not a component, and not an add-on -- socialware is governance, and that means liberal democratic governance if you want it to have a hope of success. Sure, build a Gorean republic wit Restrained Life viewer if you must, but don't expect to replicate it to millions without massive revolts. What we see is when geeks like Zuckerberg build a Restrained Life like the TOS of Facebook, making a big content grab, people revolt and he is forced to step back. And there will be more and more of that. That's why suddenly, Clay Shirky is terribly unhappy. "Democratic legitmization via the web is not enough!" cries Mr. Web 2.0 Democracy -- by which he means you will still need if not representative government, at least small task forces and committees run by operatives like himself to really run things lol.
The author of Here Comes Everybody, of course, never really wanted them to come, and certainly not come for him. Like a lot of social media gurus of the left, he was hoping to harness social media to flog his sectarian points of view and get an audience he couldn't get on mainstream TV and perhaps to get his candidate in power. Once that sectarian goal was accomplished, whoops, who needs that noisy and pesky crowd wisdom anymore!
Now Clay is bitching about the masses showing up to Twitter and blog, because they say things he doesn't like ROFL. As Social Media Commissar, this Bolshevik in charge of the People's Commissariat of Enlightenment was happy to bully and destroy institutions, denounce and undermine media and representative government, and even falsify complex history, implying, with curious communistic pastoral inanity, that the industrial revolution led everyone to be drunk all the time on gin and equate that to television. Shirky has made all kinds of claims about groups and identity (like Noveck) which I've debunked -- but it certainly is a very "I told you so" moment to see him even denouncing himself for his former views about "empowering the masses". Empower the masses -- but not so they completely trash the place or sidestep *me* is what he seems to be saying. I'm not sure why the issue of medical marijuana and such got his goat, but I think what really bothers him is that people who show up on social media are NOT going to be his peers or likeminded to his urbane leftist sectarian views. They will participate in mass culture and be on the middle or right. If something like the marijuana legalization issue comes up or there is a place for it to spam about, then organized, paid lobbies can and will rush in. What were you expecting? A seminar of Trots at the New School?! Please. Democracy is messy, people are mixed, and that's why you have, uh, what we like to call *representative* democracy to mediate it -- what the new new social media left always decries as tainted by advertising or lobbies.
I'm getting a huge chuckle out of @loi -- Loic Lemeur, the voluble Seesmic video entrepreneur and friend of Scoble, suddenly unfollowing all his Twitter fans because they got too noisy for him. He's proving himself to be yet another fake social media maven who thought social media was for him to broadcast, but for nobody else ever to talk back. Suddenly @scobleizer, Robert Scoble, who only last year thought we should all admire him for his 20,000 followers and followees, and join them, is talking about how wonderful it is to have only 150 "actual friends" on Friendfeed.org that he actually talks to -- because in fact he never really wanted to hear from the rest of us, he only wanted to broadcast to us. Somebody on Twitter can actually now have a profile that says they don't wish to hear from hermetic tekkies, don't think they qualify as marketing gurus -- and it's not me lol.
I'm very glad that so far, apparently, Beth Noveck, despite being on the Obama Transition Team isn't anywhere near actual governance. Of course, it's troublesome to see moveon.org landed one of their own to burrow from within -- and there is nothing *less* a social media organization than moveon.org, a site with no open forums, not even moderated forums, no interactive features, only push, push, push propagandistic media you can sign up and consume and reblog or retweet, but never question.
So whether examining the creepiness of Twitter or the swaggering of MMOX or the social media gurus and lefty journos stepping on each other to get into power around Obama, I am more and more impressed that socialware has to have welded into it not the point of view of geeks or leftoid early adapters (such "misfits" as Kapor calls them can just as well be right-wing kooks and far-out Extropians, but there are less of them), but good governance rules that make it possible for them to become self-aware, self-reflective, and self-corrective as well as collaborative and deliberative with the aim of building informed consensus with tolerance of dissent.
Nothing about the social media companies, tools, or virtual worlds currently have ANY of those features. Permabans from forums. Follow-block on Twitter. Closing of threads in customer service response pages. @SecondLife might brag on its description that it is the first self-aware virtual world (barf) but it only "self-awares" about things it likes in its own geeky Cali culture.
Welding good governance into the tools is not building the ability to make a yes vote based on double-plus-good positive proposal. That's how the MMOX governance sees it; that's how Cory Ondrejka saw it when he wrote the Feature Voting Tool never to have "no" votes. Gov 2.0 cannot have a system where there is no "no" vote; where aggressive fanboyz delete posts or expel people for what they perceive as "trolling," i.e. criticism of themselves or the process itself. You certainly can't have assholes in Gov 2.0, as you have on MMOX, saying "Logic is not process" and invoking "logical fallacies" in a public debate. Debates do not require logical positivism and non-falsifiable statements; they allow for logical fallacies; deliberation and governance *are* processes.
The greatest mistake these tools make is refusing internal criticism or legitimizing dissent. They handle dissent by either harsh ban or mute tools, like communists and fasicsts, or they manage it by reputational "points" or bullying or ridiculing in group-think. Dissent isn't a minority faction in parliament that doesn't and shouldn't go away and which has a vote and a voice; it's something to be ruthlessly eradicated if not ridiculed, the way the sluniverse.com gang will ridicule me for days because I make a perfectly common-sense and sound critique of the awful JIRA.
So the "no" vote has to be built into tools, and the open forums that does not eradicate posts or permaban posters also has to be built into the tools. Wikinistas and other controlling nits often say that if you leave forums open, you wind up with YouTube comments, widely cited as the nadir of the social media phenomenon. Well, no you don't, not if you are conscious of what liberal democracy means and what good governance means. You can have an open forums that doesn't involve permabanning, but still moderate the forums which involves setting the tone. If you define the user set and prevent anonymity, at least the kind of anonymity that doesn't even involve a recognizable SL avatar, you can improve the discourse dramatically. YouTube comments exist as they do because no one has to make a recognizable and persistent identity that does anything besides spam comments, i.e. run a business, socialize with others interactively, attend events, etc. YouTube tools in fact don't have a way to move people toward a more responsible form of communication with persistent accountable identities -- it's only the extreme of rant or delete. What I want is the ability to have my responses to YouTubes that desperately cry out for criticism (like the fake "Understanding Islam" machinima) become part of the viewable and persistent blog-like page that I would run on YouTube, and I also want a way to have groups of likeminded whose membership I could control or moderate have a way of having their comments be more visible "on top" on that page of my posted content. SOMETHING that would make the entire mess both more nuanced and more effective and yet not enable deleters or spammers to rule.
I think the best blogging policy is on blogger and blogspot which basically says, "if you don't have a court order, do not contact us and ask us to remove any speech". Blogs should be available for anonymous people to call other people assholes if they like. That's fine. If you want a different kind of experience, then ask for more of an identity, and a persistent one, like my requirement on this blog for posters, which is that you must use a recognizable real name, Second Life avatar name, or blogger name with a URL.
A big problem with OpenID and why it doesn't work is because it's run by geeks who can't take or incorporate user criticism and they can't become user friendly. But eventually someone will develop something that works better, possibly without the overlay of the opensource geeky culture to consume along with it, and then people will have easy, persistent and reliable log-ons and identities in posting. But this should be optional, and shouldn't become then a geek-run mechanism to control discourse.
Just as we got rid of hole-punch cards and the machines that could only accept the hole-punch cards and only if they weren't spindled and mutilated, eventually we will have machines and software, too, that accepts people and information and views outside the geek keyhole. It's a natural progression.
Where once people might have been content to have Medieval styles of communication and governance because they were role-playing men in tights or orcs in Ultima Online or World of Warcraft, as more and more people enter virtual worlds as normal people not role-playing a fantasy they will want the communications and governance tools not to be run by game-gods and wizards and mods -- all the trappings of those MMORP authoritarian enclaves -- but run with accessible and free tools of real democracy where they participate as equals with the platform provider.
Now, you have people like Infinity Linden snarking at me that if I have some complaint about her policy in a group setting like MMOX, that I have to go back to customer service and take up my account problems there. That's bullshit, of course, because, as I put it, I and numerous others paying tier pay her salary. No longer, as the future accelerates and the future is here, can that sort of nasty geek condescending bullshit obtain toward a "customer," who now isn't even a "pro-sumer" but a co-user and yes, co-developer.
Yes, co-developer, get that through your heads. The first sacred rule of socialware is that the user is co-developer on equal terms with the coder.
Geeks gasp in horror at the thought of the untrained and uninitiated having any say over their domain, but they'll have to get overthemselves in socialware. Perhaps when only software was at stake, and software only ran machines, it was ok to insist on rigid thinking and elaborate, orthodox routines. No so any more. Not now that socialware has to run people and governance.
I don't expect most geeks to get out of the way gracefully for this next period in history. In fact, I expect an actual lot of pushing and shoving will have to be done to get them out of the way.
We are often still under the domain of Web 1.0 gurus, and not Web 2.0 gurus and marvel that someone could hold a job "in technology" for 15 or 20 years, put up websites, make databases, run the technology of an organization, and yet not be aware of the social media revolution or virtual worlds, or actively scorn them. If they are aware, they expect to harness and exploit and drive them the way they autocratically ran websites or databases for years. If at once you could merely say they were out of touch, now you'd have to say they should be out of the way. That means these arrogant, anonymous, condescending and out-of-touch types that I've illustrated recently on MMOX, but they could have come from the JIRA or the forums of any tech talk or MMORPG, are unsuited for the production of socialware and will have to be squarely confronted by consumers and removed by corporate management if they want to succeed. They're always asking *us* to evolve and screaming at us to embrace the inevitable and not be filled with FUD; it's actually *their* turn now to do this. The idea that you could even consider making or interoperating a virtual world by insisting that only technology vendors get to participate in development, or that only goofy coders who speak your language, out to be as outdated as the punch card as significant of an attitude that *no longer makes the machine work*. It's no longer just the machine; it's no longer just the instructions to the machine coded by the engineer; it's the people affected, too. It isn't just that "it was always about that" or "sure, we need to incorporate feedback" it's that *the machine is inconceivable and will not work without the social component*.
There ought to be some basic premises that pertain in every single socialware setting. Among these would be:
o nothing about us/without us -- this old union cry is certainly valid today as it was in the last century, and that means not creating features that affect users without including users in the development, as equals and as necessities, not just nice options.
o yes/no voting -- no means no, and isn't "trolling"; it's ok to vote no even if you don't have a positive proposal; yes should only be for support, not fanboyz, which is why you need "no". "No" should be heeded even by people not technically capable of building the "yes" solution.
o free feedback, backtalk, forums -- it used to be that scientists understood the validity and necessity of feedback in any system and wouldn't stifle the facts emanating from an experiment even if it violated their hypothesis; computer engineers lost sight of this because they no longer worked with Nature, the consummate back-chatter, and were at remove from people who had no interface to feed back to them. Not any more.
o privacy -- no longer can you take it for granted that stripping personal data for mechanical and market needs is something you get to do without checks and balances
o equality of private and public property, commerce not just collective -- no longer can you insist on only one or the other and the extremist ideologies that go with privileging one over the other, the secretive world of the NDA proprietary code and the unaccountable and arrogant world of the opensourcenik are not cultures of the kind of transparency, accountable, and democratic participation that people want and have a right to in socialware; the exclusivity and rigidity bred by either rapacity of profit-making or by forced collectivization of technocommunism ("sharing") are not suited to the freedom choice you need in socialware
There's probably lots of other things, and these will be up to free people freely deciding in the socialware that they participate in making in all kinds of settings that will vary, and need not be frog-marked into fake internationalization or standardization.
Atomny vek [Atomic Age] by Ane Oh on Second Russia.