Gartner on the Distributed Social Web

By Ross Dawson on November 18, 2008 | Permalink

Last week I dropped in to the Gartner Symposium in Sydney, and managed to catch the session by David Cearley talking about the distributed social web, one of my favorite topics.
Overall it was a very good presentation, swiftly moving from the basics to a quite detailed view of the distributed social web, including pertinent views on the challenges of data portability. The presentation was entirely from a corporate perspective, looking at how companies should be thinking about integrating open social networks into their websites and customer interactions.
This issue is only now getting onto the radars of consumer marketing companies, and it will be a while before we see significant corporate initiatives in the space, with the social networking platforms themselves still working out where the space is going. However the open social web will become an increasingly prominent topic for consumer-oriented companies over the next few years. David’s conclusion – that the biggest risk is to fail to engage – is absolutely correct.
The style of David’s presentation, as for many research vendors, was to throw out a lot of detail, clearly to convince their clients that they can’t work it out for themselves and need consulting assistance. I suppose this is probably quite true in this particular space, where it’s extraordinary difficult for people even at the center of what’s happening to get their arms around it. However I will have a go myself over the next few months, in creating a successor to the Web 2.0 Framework that will look at the layers of social platforms and how to engage with them.
Below are the notes I took during David’s session:

Social context – such as reviews, ratings, and feedback – can deliver high value. The gestation period has been from the beginning of this decade, but we are reaching an inflexion point and are moving into a phase of accelerated development.
This will impact the enterprise as customers and stakeholders are involved, meaning there isn’t a choice as to whether you’re involved. It also can be applied inside the enterprise.
Company websites will increasingly have social elements. Competitors will engage in social networks, and there is the potential for first-mover advantage.
We are at the beginning of a 5-10 year transition. Any digital immigrant that does not fully assimilate will experience significant personal and career challenges.
The mobile device will be at the center of social networking activities.
Social sites are evolving from silo applications to social platforms,
Maps of the ‘social graph’ are crude representations of real-world relationships, but are evolving to be richer and more nuanced. Since many relationships are online-only, the map has become the territory.
Social data portability is hard, because relationships are bidirectional, asymmetric, variable over time, and changed by self-awareness. As such, social data must be jointly owned, have fine-grained control over visibility, and have dynamically revocable rights. Social network data portability is going to be a sore point for some time.
We are moving from walled gardens to a distributed social network. Some networks will provide front-ends to other social networks or aggregate them. Take for example Hellotxt, Flotzam, pageonce, socialthing, mixx,, Friendfeed, twhirl.
As an analog, financial service companies are trying to aggregate visibility to people’s financial situation.
Social information is part of context-aware computing. Contextual information spans domains from geolocation to behavior to social connections. It can provide sustainable competitive advantage, and as it proves value, it moves from the periphery to the core. It can drive the operation of corporate websites.
Social sites are currently social silos. Aggregators are developing, and context brokers are now emerging. GNIP provides a protocol bridge to access cross-protocal data.
OpenSocial is a counterweight to the Facebook phenomenon. It’s a classic fast-follower response to an upstart threat. The initial scope is client-side widgets and source-code portability. This is particularly important to companies want to offer social functionality on their sites. It’s open source and shifting from a closed group to an independent foundation.
There is a new role, beyond technical architecture to social architecture, using a design vocabulary including people, reputation, identify, relationships, interactions, shored objects, access privileges, visibility, tagging, voting etc. Fine-grained control over relationships includes asymmetrical visibility, visibility of events (e.g. Unsubscribing to friends)
Architectural components of social networks include unique URLs, discussion in context, shared categories, emerging structure such as tag clouds, attention-based relevancy, group formation etc.
Many of these elements will be part of next-generation collaboration platforms inside organizations.
Risks of not participating are greater than participating. If you do not participate you may be viewed as antiquated, offering competitors opportunities, being less visible, and find it difficult to recruit. But there risks in not doing it right as well.
A social media strategy needs to take into account how conversational and how timely different tools are. Press releases and Twitter are at opposite ends of the spectrum.
In social platforms in the enterprise, you move from ‘life streams’ to ‘work stream’. .Enterprise collaboration suites add profile pages, activity streams, contact lists, social search and so on. Tools like Liferay are providing social context inside organizations.
To make your website part of the social web, use connections management, shared objects, activity streams, use standards such as OpenID, oAuth, FOAF, XFN, XOXO and the DiSo project. Interoperability including Google Friend Connect, Facebook Connect and MySpace Data Availability could be relevant for corporate websites.
There are five dimensions to moving beyond the core: Mashed content, WSRP/ Gadgets, Portlets/ Widgets, Social media, [missed one here…]
Concluding points: the biggest risk is failure to engage. Inventory social data in your organization, formulate plans for internal interoperability, consider how social context can deliver value for your customers, listen to social media, then being speaking, evolve your architecture to enable the context-broker role, and enhance monetization mechanisms.

By the way David’s most recent blog post is on the very interesting topic of how Gartner creates its top 10 strategic technologies list.

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