Social Computing Symposium 2005: Reflections

In the aftermath of the two day, MSR-sponsored Social Computing Symposium at the Marriott in Redmond, I am tongue-tied and twisted up into a tight ball of creative energy. If I am never again honored to attend an event so densely packed with people whose ideas and collective energy excite my intellect so broadly and profoundly, I will nonetheless feel gratified to have experienced it this once. A hearty thanks to my managers and development team for giving me leave to disappear for a few days.

The Ideas

My noggin battery is recharged and my thought factory is working overtime. The night after the Symposium ended, I awakened twice, attacked my Dilbert notebook with my trusty Microsoft pen, and then fell back to sleep. I revisited my mid-night scribblings the following morning to find them surprisingly lucid, at least in contrast to past attacks of nocturnal creativity. I plan to refine and blog about a few of my ideas and general observations in the coming days. I've already blogged about one such idea: musicr and understand that this is a special interest of my friend, Sebastien Paquet (dude, blogroll maybe?). Perhaps Seb can point us to some additional resources? Another idea I'm chewing on relates to Wikis and the "backchannel" research that Liz Lawley and Richard Hodkinson presented at the Symposium yesterday. Good stuff.

The Pictures

A few photos from the Symposium, including one ebullient Microsoft PM, J, compliments of Molly Steenson, Derek Powazek, and Nancy White. Tagsalicious.

The Instigators

Folks I had a chance to hang out with at the Symposium:

  • JJ Jacobi -- Consultant, previously director of software development at

  • Ray Ozzie -- It was an honor to finally meet Ray in person. As the erstwhile CEO of Groove Networks (now Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft), Ray was on my short list of must-meet people. Ray is passionate about social software and IMHO is a perfect fit for Microsoft. Welcome! You can find my first welcome here. Ray talked about a Groove workspace that was created for peace talks between the Tamil Tigers and the Singhalese government of Sri Lanka wherein the participants are seated at a big, round, table. When a new participant enters the workspace, a chair is moved up to the table. Inferring a sense of physical proximity in a virtual space is an important paradigm, which I believe merits further research, usability testing, and emulation. Obviously, we can never recreate the value of physical proximity virtually but we can simulate it, visually and temporally.

  • Fernanda Viégas – I was smitten by Fernanda's beautiful and thought-awakening wiki visualizations, especially History Flow. In my humble opinion, her work is best of breed. I look forward to the promised release of the For links to more resources, see Visualizing Whirled Wiki.

  • Liz Lawley me on my indignant, gut-level reaction to back, back channels: those secret cabals where the "popular kids" congregate in virtual space to bitch and bemoan the sophomoric inadequacies of everyone else. Liz, I’m holding my ground: social software should enable, but not by default, the creation of back, back channels. IMO, the back, back channel is as anti-social as it is social. This issue is very relevant to a project I’m working on... When you and your family make the move to Redmond ;-), we should meet at Victor’s Coffee or on campus to debate this issue in greater detail. Congratulations on your new job! JFYI, as a member of the Redmond Planning Commission I will be happy to provide as much information as you’d like in deciding whether to locate here, especially with regards to neighborhoods, parks, schools, natural features, and planned development, both now and 20 years into the future.

  • Elizabeth Churchill

  • Randy Farmer

  • Molly Steenson – girlwonder is not particularly fond of Tagging but is very interested in playlists as a form of implicit personal attribution and definition. Perhaps I’m not a real person? Sans playlist, do I really exist? Molly is in the process of making the jump from social computing to urban architecture. We had a nice, one-on-one meeting on Tuesday evening at which I presented her with endless reams of City planning materials and she graciously feigned interest.

  • Richard Hodkinson – boywonder. OSI…7-layer burrito... During his excellent presentation about the backchannel, something Richard said about proximity hit a tripwire in my brain. After his presentation, I hunted him down (but not in the way that Howard hunts down woolly mammoths), drug him out into the hallway (but not like girlwonder) where, with Ward Cunningham, we enjoyed a collective Eureka! moment. The central question is this: Would there be value in adding a "backchannel page" to the "talk behind" WikiModel? Richard, Ward, and I agree that the answer is a resounding YES. The use cases are clear and compelling. More on this in T minus one blogpost.

  • Ward Cunningham – the man is an institution and not just because he invented a brand new information sharing medium: WikiWiki. As one of my co-workers remarked recently, "every time I talk to Ward, it seems like I have a great idea." Was that your idea or Ward’s? The cool thing about Ward, on a human level, is that it doesn’t matter. He’s like a human instance of the Community Commons license. He asks good questions, makes incisive comments, and is passionate about ideas. He’s like a great painter who often sees things the rest of us do not, freely points them out, and openly works with anyone to devise strategies for bringing their ideas to life on canvass.

  • Kevin Marks – Symposium, n., a convivial meeting for drinking, music, and intellectual discussion among the ancient Greeks. Kevin is a lead developer over at Technorati but his insights into early childhood education, particularly reading, are what stand out in my mind. If memory serves, it was Kevin who enlivened me to the real meaning of symposium, as a few of us were sitting around at midnight drinking wine in the lobby of the Redmond Marriott.
    In a recent blog post, Kevin remarks that "One theme that recurs is the analogy between urban architecture and social software."
    The ideas that I encounter in social computing literature, conversations, and events inform my work as a Planning Commissioner. Likewise, I frequently apply lessons learned as a Planning Commissioner to the art of designing social software. For example, a few months ago I attended a presentation sponsored by Microsoft Research in which the presenter (I think it was Jennifer Preece) stated that in groups exceeding 12 members, individuals have a tendency to assume that somebody else will do the work (moderate posts, pick up the trash, etc). At a Planning Commission meeting last week, my fellow commissioners and I were debating the number of units that should be permitted in "innovative housing" developments in the City of Redmond and I cited this observation as the basis for limiting such developments to 12 or fewer homes. More thoughts on the convergence of social computing and urban planning, see my Planning Redmond posts.

  • Howard Rheingold – it was an honor to meet Howard finally. For the first 3 months of my daughter’s life, before she could protest, "Daddy this is soooo boring," I read several pages of Howard’s Smart Mobs to her every day.
    During the symposium, I had a chance to introduce Howard and Marc Smith to my ideas about the value of municipally-owned and operated WiFi networks and how to "sell it" as "libraries everywhere". For more of my thoughts and activity in this area, see my Planning Redmond posts.

  • Rael Dornfest hosted an interesting panel discussion consisting of several area high school students who have no idea what podcasting is, and don’t really care thank you very much.

  • David Weinberger – Joho the blogger was as active participant on the IRC backchannel, as expected. For more of his always insightful observations, see SCS.

  • danah boyd – the jetset pundita flew in from Austria a bit late to the symposium and I didn’t have a chance to talk to her L.

  • Genevieve Bell is an anthropologist who works at Microsoft. She gave an intriguing but all too short presentation about social computing trends in Asia. Did you know that there are 350,000,000 cell phones in China or that Korea is the most wired country on earth with regards to broadband penetration or that India is 70% rural and tele-medicine represents a HUGE market there or that in Indonesia, there are more mosques than wired telephone connections?

  • Amy Bruckman, a scholar from Georgia Tech, had laryngitis during the Symposium but, with the help of other participants, gave a presentation anyway. Bravo!

  • Lili Cheng - the inimitable. We will miss you, Lili. Good luck in your new role in Windows UI!

  • Shelly Farnham – the heir apparent to Lili kicked off the Symposium with an active intro wherein Symposium attendees introduced themselves and threw a ball of twine to another attendee they knew across the room. Social entanglement.

  • Derek Powazek – UI design lead at Technorati. Dachshund owner. San Franciscan. Disagrees with Molly about tagging.

I realize, belatedly, that this post is getting too long. But there were many other fascinating people I met at the Symposium and hope to meet again, online or elsewhere, in the near future:

Comments (7)

  1. Nancy White says:

    Great overview, Korby, and a reminder that I have not done the same. I too, had lots of ideas running around in my head. Genevieve’s presentation — more more more wanted; Amy’s take on defining online community (I want to practice applying it); the teens (and my wondering about how representative they are… I have two teens of my own and see a range!); Ward and Kevin who really brought their humanity with their technical intelligence — greatly appreciated; the great break and meal conversations (including with you!) and the people. THE PEOPLE!

    I’d be interested in the back channel conversation. I have such conflicting feelings — very positive and quite repulsed all at once. Which is my internal signal that there si something important to pay attention to.


  2. At the Social Computing Symposium last week, I stumbled into a discussion that I had not given much thought…

  3. Payday Loan says:

    Very nice and informative website.

  4. Katrina says:

    Very nice website with a lot of informative response from members

  5. Persone los pioneros non rabata. Great…

  6. Himn says:

    Very nice blog. I read it every day.

Skip to main content