Cloud Street

Thursday, January 05, 2006

We're never together

Back here, I wrote:
Social software may start with connecting data, but what it's really about is connecting people - and connecting them in dialogue, on a basis of equality. If this goal gets lost, joining the dots may do more harm than good.
It's not about connecting machines, either - and the same caveat applies. Via Thomas, I recently read this item about location-based services (which, I remember, were going to be quite the thing a couple of years ago, although they seem to have faded since people started actually getting their hands on 3G technology). Anyway, here are the quotes:
This project focuses on [location-based technology's] collaborative uses: how group of people benefits from knowing others' whereabouts when working together on a joint activity ... we set up a collaborative mobile environment called CatchBob! in which we will test how a location awareness tool modifies the group interactions and communications, the way they perform a joint task as well as how they rely on this spatial information to coordinate.
And how did that work out?
"We found that players who were automatically aware of their partners’ location did not perform the task better than other participants. In addition, they communicated less and had troubles reminding their partners' whereabouts (which was surprising). These results can be explained by the messages exchanged. First the amount of messages is more important in the group without the location-awareness tool: players had then more traces to rely on in order to recall the others’ trails. And when we look at the content, we see that players without the location-awareness tool sent more messages about position, direction or strategy. They also wrote more questions."
Really, we're back with 'push' technology - which was going to be quite the thing round about 1998, as I remember. Give people device for talking to each other: works. Give people device which gives them a constant stream of information: doesn't work.

The trouble is, we've got the technology. The problems with social software are social; see this deeply depressing Register story.
Alongside video on demand TV services from Homechoice, the SDB [Shoreditch Digital Bridge] will offer a "Community Safety Channel" which will allow residents "to monitor estate CCTV cameras from their own living rooms, view a 'Usual Suspects' ASBO line up, and receive live community safety alerts."
...
Other aspects of the Shoreditch Digital Bridge are less controversial, but likely to be considerably harder to execute. The SDB proposes an education channel, "allowing children and adults to take classes, complete on-line homework assignments and log-on to 'virtual tutors'", a "Health Channel" allowing patients to book GP appointments, and providing "virtual Dr/Nurse consultations and on-line health and diagnosis information", a "Consumer Channel, allowing on-line group buying of common services such as gas, electricity and mobile phone tariffs", and an "Employment Channel, providing on-line NVQ courses, local jobs website and virtual interview mentoring."

So within that little lot, the educational aspects will require substantial input from, and involvement of, existing schools and colleges, the Health Channel will need a whole new interface to NHS systems that are already struggling to implement their own new electronic booking systems, and the Consumer Channel will merely have to reinvent the co-operative movement electronically.
But CCTV - ah, now, we've got CCTV...

Will:
Yet again, the technology arrives promising us a vibrant civic and economic future ... then beds down as a means of protecting us from each other.
Or rather, as a means of protecting us from Them (caution - sweary link).

If we're talking about social software or social networks, let's be clear that we're talking about connecting people rather than dividing them. Connecting machines doesn't necessarily help connect people.

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