Tag Archives: flickr

Exploring Social Software

Update June 2010 :
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
Julia Ault

A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

The term ‘social software’ broadly refers to software that is mainly accessed via a web browser but which can also be downloaded to the desktop in some circumstances and enables the user to communicate and interact socially with others online.

Online social communication is the general overall theme of this blog and we have explored several methods in earlier posts, but the over-riding characteristic of social software in the Web 2.0 age is that of consumers becoming users and taking ownership of the web in a way that wasn’t previously possible.

Perhaps some of the better-known and more successful names in this area now are those of YouTube, Flickr, Del.icio.us, Twitter, FriendFeed, MyBlogLog and of course Facebook and Myspace. More of these sites are springing up all the time (indeed, you can subscribe to even more from this blog!) and therefore this list is by no means exhaustive.

YouTube was purchased by Google in 2006 and is a video sharing site offering free online facilities for users to upload, view, share, comment on and subscribe to video clips. It is not permissible to download these clips to the desktop, but users are able to copy and embed clips into other websites, blogs and social networks as desired. YouTube is an extremely popular website storing around 83 million videos amongst 3.5 million user accounts and its bandwidth requirements are huge. It is estimated that the bandwidth consumed by YouTube alone in 2007 was equal to the bandwidth of the entire internet in 2000.

As mentioned in a previous post Evolution to the Web, Flickr and Del.icio.us are both owned by Yahoo and allow users to upload and share their photos and bookmarks with others.

Social bookmarking services are a relatively new phenomenon and in some ways capture the very essence of the Web 2.0 philosophy. Hyperlinks (or more simply links), are at the core of the World Wide Web, as each site links to another, then another and so on. Whilst search engines are wonderful tools, it is never going to be possible to find every apposite or relevant link during one’s lifetime. It is quite possible however that another like-minded individual may have found just such a link and stored it in their browser bookmarks for future reference.

Social bookmarking tools allow users to upload their own personal browser bookmarks to an online database where they can not only retrieve them themselves from any computer with internet access, (Yahoo has facilitated such a system for years on their My Yahoo pages) but can share them with others, add to them at will and ‘tag’ them for referencing. Many blogs, articles and general websites – including those of major mainstream newspapers – now offer users the opportunity to add their content to Del.icio.us and other similar sites by a simple click of a button on the page.

Tagging refers to a non-hierarchical categorising method of adding freely chosen keywords to links or articles. Other users typing in the same keyword in a search will thus be able to easily find these links and articles. This method of collaborative referencing has been dubbed a folksonomy referring to a user-generated taxonomy (classification). Tagging has become a major feature of Web 2.0 social media and is routinely used throughout such applications for photos, videos, comments, forum and blog posts as well as bookmarks, thus enabling simple and easy sharing of relevant and interesting content with other like-minded users or ‘friends’.

The concept of ‘Friends’ in its online context has taken on a much more wide-ranging connotation than the generally accepted term in offline use which normally refers to members of one’s own personal social circle. Unless one is either famous or exceptionally popular, this social circle is usually reasonably small and intimate, made up as it is of people that are actually and physically known to a person in their real life.

Online friends are different of course, because the ‘global village’ that is the world wide web enables people to befriend others on the other side of the world without ever meeting them. This began to happen in the first web communities and forums when people were able to join groups that were not based in the same geographical area as themselves. This often led to personal bonds being formed between people (typically across the Atlantic because most web hosts and servers are based in the United States) but East to West communication also took place. I am firmly of the belief that such bonds greatly assist with tolerance and understanding of diverse cultures and is to be encouraged wherever possible. Many long-term international friendships have been nurtured in this way.

Web 2.0 social media applications take this concept one step further by labelling every online person you make contact with as a ‘friend’.

Twitter and Friendfeed enable users to share details of their everyday lives both on and offline by posting ‘tweets’ or short messages directly to the Twitter.com website, via text message from a mobile phone or from a small desktop application that sits in one’s system tray and pops up periodically when one receives a ‘tweet’ from a friend. Users may also send RSS (Really Simple
Syndication) feeds from their blogs or websites to Twitter to enable their friends to quickly read and/or comment on new content as it is created. Friendfeed is a service that collects and aggregates all such services in one single feed. Even more integration is made possible by Minggl an internet start-up company which has developed the Minggl browser toolbar (currently in beta), to allow access to all your friends from several different social networks in your browser sidebar.

MyBlogLog offers a blog tracking service with simple statistics and the opportunity to make ‘friends’ and follow the activities of others within the MyBlogLog family of communities.

The following images (again with grateful thanks to Dion Hinchcliffe) depict graphically how social media works in relation to Friendfeed and the other services discussed above:

Social Aggregation

Online Conversations

In our next article, we will be taking an in-depth look at Online Social Networks which are, in many ways, the all-singing, all-dancing successors to the MSN Communities that we discussed in an earlier post; Evolution to the Web.

Read the next article in the series:
Which Online Social Network?

Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

Evolution to the Web

Update June 2010:
This post was part of a research project into social media and online communication that I undertook in 2008 and was originally published on my own personal blog Ffynnonweb which continues to undertake a journey across the changing online landscape, observing and chronicling developments in social technology and noting how they impact upon online communities – with a particular focus on opportunities in education known as ‘technology enhanced learning’ (TEL).
Julia Ault

A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA

Our online journey moves on to the Web…

Microsoft launched its own Microsoft Network (MSN) in 1995 offering ISP and online services to complement the Windows 95 Operating System. The service was included with the operating system and was originally conceived as a dial-up online content provider similar to AOL offering product support, basic email, MSNBC news, chat rooms and newsgroups. The Internet Explorer Web browser offering open access to the Internet was available initially as a download and was later included in the Windows 95 Plus! Package. In 1996, the MSN 2.0 package was released, providing Internet access plus web-based proprietary content which used interactive multi-media applications such as Visual Basic Scripting, embryonic Macromedia Shockwave Flash for animations and MSN Shows which were presented in a TV- like format and it could be argued that they were the forerunner of YouTube videos.

This highly innovative multi-media content proved to be very much ahead of its time however, purely because it was not easily accessible to users on slower dial-up connections (which constituted the majority of subscribers at that time) and therefore slow speeds and unreliable software generated a large volume of complaints and general user dissatisfaction with MSN and Microsoft. By 1998, all these rich features had been abandoned and the now-familiar Internet Explorer interface was being used instead.

In 1998-99, MSN began to develop online services for other users of the Internet (previously it had confined online content and services to subscribers to the MSN Internet Access Service – in other words – those people who used MSN as their ISP). Hotmail and MSN Messenger provided webmail and instant messenging services to all. MSN.com became a web portal offering proprietary Search, News, Webmail, Messenging and the new ‘People and Chat’ section all under one easily accessible roof. In fact, new installations of Windows Operating Systems have the home page of the integrated Internet Explorer browser set to MSN.com by default, ensuring that the user’s first experience of the Internet is provide by Microsoft itself.
Whilst one could argue that this does not offer the user much choice initially, it did have the advantage from a social perspective that MSN Communities and MSN Chat were not difficult for the novice web surfer to find, thus enabling them to quickly meet and interact with other Internet users, perhaps for the very first time.

MSN Communities offered message boards, chat rooms, document storage, photo albums and customisable html pages to anyone who obtained a free Hotmail or MSN email address and signed up. All this was available in your web browser (typically Internet Explorer that was integrated into your operating system) without the need to install or configure any other software. This very simplicity was its USP (unique selling point) and millions of users around the globe created and joined communities and began talking to and learning from one another.

Indeed my own first experience of the social web was through MSN Communities and a great deal of informal learning took place within a specific Community of Practice over a six month period, during which seasoned computer users patiently took the time to impart the basics of the web and computing to an eager but unskilled novice. This proved to be so successful that it initiated a keen interest in web development, graphics and the internet and thus began the ongoing quest for knowledge of the web and all its facets that has led to this research study.

I therefore owe a debt of gratitude to the members and owners of this specific community. Communities have now been renamed MSN Groups but this particular Community of Practice continues to teach and guide Internet and computer ‘newbies’ at the time of writing, nine years after its initial creation and is still visited by me from time to time to catch up with old friends.

In fact, one could almost argue that this community is now a victim of its own success; members become so comfortable in the knowledgeable, but friendly atmosphere that they do not wish to leave and are most reluctant to move on to newer technologies. The technical facilities offered by these communities are now somewhat out-dated and limited in their scope.
When some of the more adventurous members do begin to feel it is time to move on and sample some of the other delights that the web has to offer – in the early days it was individual web sites and forums, obtaining web hosting and domain names which afforded the putative webmasters considerably more freedom than MSN was able or willing to provide – there is a feeling of fear and loneliness mixed in with the excitement of the new challenge, because such pioneers know that they will be striking out on their own and leaving behind their friends and their comfort zone.

Very few other members are willing to join the pioneer in the new venture because, as will be discussed in more depth in forthcoming articles, change can be exciting but it can also be rather daunting and frightening. People tend to prefer the tried and trusted methods of ‘doing things’ and will only accept change if there is no viable alternative or if they can be persuaded that they will be ‘better off’ in some appreciable and measurable way after the change has taken place.

Microsoft themselves know this only too well, because there is always a great deal of resistance to accepting a new operating system for example and it is sometimes only when technical support for the old product is finally withdrawn that the remaining recalcitrant users are forced to upgrade, however unwillingly.

MSN have been rolling out their new Windows Live suite of applications for the Web 2.0 era, which currently comprise Windows Mail, Messenger, Hotmail, Photo Gallery and Windows Live Spaces.
These Spaces provide users with a blog and a photo gallery and were intended to replace the old Communities and provide competition for newer rivals such as Myspace, Blogger and others – which will be discussed in Part 3.

However, Windows Live Spaces have not been without their critics and the further integration within the Windows Live family is designed to offer a more modern complete experience for the user, with planned future developments of Events, Calendar and Windows Live Groups – which will be an add-on to Windows Live Spaces rather than a separate entity like the current MSN Groups.
It is expected that this will then allow MSN to close Groups completely and move their users across to the Windows Live Suite. Groups are already being allowed to ‘wither on the vine’ so to speak, with the closure of MSN and Groups Chat and the lack of advertising of groups on the main MSN pages. They are now quite difficult to locate by chance and users need to know where to look or have the pages bookmarked to obtain entry to the groups section of MSN. By contrast, Windows Live products are prominently advertised on MSN portals.

Yahoo! began life at the same time as MSN in 1995, originally as an internet search engine and has diversified into many areas of internet service provision over the years through a policy of acquisition of smaller companies and incorporating their products into their portfolio. These included web portals, webmail, messenger and egroups which evolved into Yahoo Groups. Yahoo Groups differed from MSN Groups in that they were more of an email mailing list with a limited web interface.

As with all of the larger Web 1.0 content providers, Yahoo! is currently attempting to provide Web 2.0 content for its users and has already added Flickr (image sharing and storage) MyBlogLog (blog tracking and analytics) and Del.icio.us (social bookmarking) to its list of acquisitions.

Yahoo! has also recently announced plans to open up the social network that is
Yahoo! (their terminology). They call it the Yahoo! Open Strategy: Y!OS. The intention is not to create a new Online Social Network but to turn the massive Yahoo! network into a social one. All this comes at a time when Microsoft have recently withdrawn their takeover bid for Yahoo and the company is looking for new directions. At one point, a merger with Google was mentioned but anti-trust regulations make this perhaps unlikely. The Yahoo blog is a good source of information on the company’s latest thoughts.

Speaking of Google, this is a company which has been going from strength to strength since its own early beginnings (also as a search engine) in 1998. The concept of ‘Page Ranking’ however, differentiated Google from all the other search engines that were around at the time and has allowed it to grow into the most used search engine on the web. In fact, the verb to ‘google’ – meaning to conduct an Internet search – officially entered the Oxford English dictionary in 2006.

Although Google Search is the most successful service, Google also provides Gmail ( a web and pop based email service with virtually unlimited storage), and Google Groups (which incidentally now houses a large Usenet posting archive going back to 1981) among many other services.
Google Groups are more like Yahoo Groups than MSN Communities in nature, bearing more of a resemblance to email newsgroups than web-based forums.

Google’s philosophy has always been that its services are freely available to the general public and these are funded through business users paying for advertising within search listings or paid placements in the rankings. The majority of its revenue stream is through advertising – $10 billion in total advertising revenues reported for 2006.

Yahoo, Google and Myspace have recently announced the creation of a new non-profit OpenSocial Foundation which will allow third party applications to be created that may be integrated into the emerging social networks that characterise Web 2.0 and will be discussed later in the series.
The press release announcing the OpenSocial Foundation described it in this way:

“OpenSocial addresses an emerging problem for developers who are eagerly building applications people can enjoy with their friends: before OpenSocial, if a developer built a “favourite photos” application to work on one social network, it would have to be built all over again to work on another site. OpenSocial tackles this problem at its technology roots, providing common “plumbing” that lets social applications run on many different websites without requiring duplicate work from either developers or the websites. The result is a vast distribution platform for social applications, whether they are for sharing photos or playing games or arranging real-world meetings or any number of other activities – everything is more fun, interesting, and useful when users can involve their friends and contacts”

Read the next article in the series:
Web 2.0 Inception

Update June 2010: A full list of all the posts in the social media research project can now be found on this page Social Media Research: JA