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How Revolutionary is Social?

By Christian Buckley posted May 15, 2012 6:56 AM

  

We've all sat in a meeting or overheard someone talking on the train or while at lunch about the latest, greatest social technology, and about how it has changed the way they do their work, or whatever. Another empty-headed platitude, if you ask me. People love to dramatize their experiences with technology, and, of course, we also know how we all like to feel that we're at the cutting edge - nay, the bleeding edge of technology. So when there are 3 or 4 social computing solutions popping up online or on our phones each day, we each get an opportunity to feel superior than others for being the "first" to embrace and use the limited functionality of these utilities.

 

The problem I have with most of the chatter in the press and event within the broader technology community is how little people know about these tools, and just how long this technology has been around. Instant Messaging has been around for 20 years now, and is the precursor to both the activity streams you love in Facebook, and the real-time conversations in Twitter. Aren't these just extensions of the earlier technology innovation? SharePoint and its dozens of competitors are not new -- product lifecycle management (PLM) and product data management (PDM) solutions have been around for decades, allowing business and technical teams to collaborate on content and products. The evolution for these have been the expansion of the internet, which moved these very expensive platforms from transactional platforms to HTTP and XML.

 

But was that revolutionary? Or simply evolutionary?

 

Evolutionary design is the way of a managed release schedule (regardless of whether users want the features or upgrades being made to the new release). The problem with evolutionary design is that users might notice the updates (often they do not) and if updates are too frequent and last a long time (years for example), users can get the feeling the software or web application is aging without changing or getting stale.

 

Revolutionary design, like the current rolling rebellions in the Middle East, overthrows the old order of design and interaction paradigms and introduces fresher, faster and easier ways to interact with the product.

demystifyingusability.com

 

Don't get me wrong -- I think the onslaught of new solutions being regularly launched is fantastic, and as an wannabe-researcher in the area of social informatics (I was accepted into a doctoral program on the topic) I am fascinated by the rapid change in the ways that the modern information worker acquires, consumes, and disseminates data. What irks me is how people throw around the 'revolutionary' terminology without having a firm grasp of what it is, and what has come before it.

 

My feeling is that it is all evolutionary. I'm still waiting for the revolution. 

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