The future of your social software is already here

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”.

This quote by William Gibson (often reprised by Tim O’Reilly) is bantered about in tech circles whenever people get the feeling they’re glimpsing the future. It was particularly appropriate for the iPhone launch last June, when countless people pointed out that the touch-screen has been around for a long time.

The quote also pertains to web application design and the research teams need to do in order to make great software.

In a talk I gave the other day on social design, I went on at length about how you need to design for personal value before social value. (I’ve long called this the Del.icio.us Lesson). I illustrated how most successful social web applications provide personal value at their most basic, using social value to augment it and make it better. So YouTube is a great video storage application first…and it also has great sharing features if you choose to do that.

(As a counter-example consider Technorati Tags, which provide social value but don’t provide personal value. One word: SPAM)

A software designer from the audience asked the next logical question (a question I get a lot!)…

“The future is already here – it is just unevenly distributed.”.

This quote by William Gibson (often reprised by Tim O’Reilly) is bantered about in tech circles whenever people get the feeling they’re glimpsing the future. It was particularly appropriate for the iPhone launch last June, when countless people pointed out that the touch-screen has been around for a long time.

The quote also pertains to web application design and the research teams need to do in order to make great software.

In a talk I gave the other day on social design, I went on at length about how you need to design for personal value before social value. (I’ve long called this the Del.icio.us Lesson). I illustrated how most successful social web applications provide personal value at their most basic, using social value to augment it and make it better. So YouTube is a great video storage application first…and it also has great sharing features if you choose to do that.

(As a counter-example consider Technorati Tags, which provide social value but don’t provide personal value. One word: SPAM)

A software designer from the audience asked the next logical question (a question I get a lot!)

“How do you proceed if you’re considering adding social features to your application but aren’t sure whether or not they provide real personal value?”

The answer is that you have to find out if the problem you’re trying to solve already exists. If, as Gibson might say, it’s here but just not distributed yet.

If it is here, then it follows that people are already dealing with it somewhere, somehow. They might not even be using software to deal with it, but they’re struggling nevertheless. The trick is to find out where and how this happens. (don’t be afraid of Do It Yourself research)

The iPhone, of course, isn’t as revolutionary as it is evolutionary. In fact, the problems of mobile phones were quite well understood by everyone who used them. The situation was simply that we were putting up with them.

The most successful software doesn’t solve problems that don’t exist yet. The most successful software solves problems that nobody else is trying to solve, or nobody else is trying to solve in the same way.

If you cannot find any evidence that the problem your new feature is trying to solve is indeed an existing problem people are already dealing with, then I would seriously reconsider building it.

Published: December 5th, 2007

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