September 14, 2003

Friendster and Bloogle, build me this!

I'd like Friendster and Google/Blogger to create a couple of features that I think will make my intellectual social life more interesting:

  • The Friendster Instant Party/Conference. I want to be able to tell Friendster to send out an Evite-like invitation to everyone in a given "friend radius" (say, two degrees of separation) and invite them to come to a party, or to have a conference. I figure that friends of friends are probably going to be pretty good party guests or conference participants (especially if I can specify criteria like location for parties or intellectual interests for conferences). One of the things I like most about highly social conferences like TED or O'Reilly's Emerging Technology conference is meeting people who have shared interests and who are friends of friends of mine, but whom I don't know or know only by reputation. Sending out individual invitations to everyone like that is a big pain in the butt, but if the social network has already been built, it should be a cinch.
  • The Google/Blogger Interest Cluster. A huge potential, and desire, for social software is to make it easier to find people who are like you. I believe that this is one of the three primary drivers of what made the internet so popular (the other two being the ease with which information could be searched and located, and shopping). Blogs are a great way to know what people are interested in, but short of manually discovering other blogs (and therefore people), I haven't found a good way to find others who share the same interests as me. Sure there are the blogrolling lists, Google, links, word-of-mouth and Metafilter/Memepool, but they're all still kind of manual. I want a system that uses a combination of Google link/reputation relevance with something like Latent Semantic Indexing (more explanation) of blog content to tell me when/who is talking about topics similar to mine. I suspect that Google had some intentions like this for Blogger when they bought them, but--dammit--I want it now. [Actually, now that I've written this, maybe Affinity Cluster is a better name, since some people may not care about interests, but may want to find people who are "more like me."] [OK, so half an hour after I wrote this, I found Waypath, which seems like an attempt to do exactly what I described. In 5 minutes of playing with it I'm not sure if the search metaphor is appropriate for this technology--I think I'd rather have it work more passively and look through my blog entries and recommend blogs, rather than just individual posts--but it's definitely a step in the direction I'm thinking of.]

And a succinct quote from Vint Cerf, in his essay in Beyond Calculation:

"One of the more difficult challenges in trying to predict the future of technology is to distinguish between what will be commonplace from what may be merely feasible."

I think this is at the core of a lot of the problems with failed products and predictions. It may be obvious, but technology has to serve people's needs (which change and shift with time, location and demographics), not exist in a vacuum. What makes something commonplace (i.e. popular) is how well it does that--which may have nothing to do with technological innovation, at all.

Posted by mikek at September 14, 2003 12:48 PM
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