Stowe Boyd: Building Social Applications [en]

Warning: these are my notes of Stowe‘s workshop at LIFT, meaning my understanding and interpretation of what he said. They might not reflect accurately what Stowe told us, and might even be outright wrong in some places. Let me know if you think I really messed up somewhere.

Update 05.2007: enjoy the slideshow and the video of his presentation (not the workshop!).

Questions to play ball with:

  1. What makes social applications social (or not)
  2. How can we make applications more social?
  3. What are the common factors in successful social applications?
  4. What is worth building?

  5. iTunes vs.; also non-social applications which implement, at some point, some social component.

“Software intended to shape culture.” Stowe Boyd, in Message, August 1999

steph-note: a step further than “groupware”

LIFT'07... Stowe Boyd

Applications which are qualitatively different. But they haven’t replaced the rest: people are still building applications which allow people to buy stuff online. But we’re looking for ways to stick the humans back in there (“what do the top 10 authorities on cellphones recommend?”)

Read: The Great Good Place by Ray Oldenburg (Third Place, not home and not work)

Decreasing affiliation in the USA (Putnam — sp?). People spend less time “hanging out” with people. steph-note: cf. danah/MySpace More TV. Commuting isn’t that significant, but hours in front of the TV is. The light at the end of the tunnel, the only hope we’ve got left, is the internet. Social hours spent on the internet are hours not spent watching TV (steph-note: yep!)

TV is not involvement in people, but in this “entertainment culture”. TV reached lowest numbers in the USA since ’50s.

One way we can measure the success of a social application is how much it moves us in that direction.

Social: me first. Put the individual in the centre. Look at the difference between traditional journalism (disembodied third voice) and blogging (first person, you know who’s writing and who’s reading). Need to start with needs and desires of the people using it (?).

Adoption happens in stages. First, the application needs to satisfy the needs of an individual, in such a way that he/she comes back. And then, there needs to be stuff to share that encourages the individual to invite his friends in.

my passions — my people — my markets

Start with the people. Put the people in the foreground (but how?) Easy to fail if you don’t do that right. How are people going to find each other? Second, support their networks/networking.

Only third: realisation of money — markets — shipping etc.

Give up control to the users: “the edge dissolves the centre”.

To review a social app, you need to use it “for real” over an extended period of time.

Xing: the edge doesn’t dissolve the centre. E.g. can’t create a group. Need to ask them by e-mail, and they try to control group creation and management.

Build an environment in which people are “free”. Allow them to find each other.

Success factors for a social application: me first and bottom up. Otherwise, it won’t spread.

Blogging: primary goal is social interaction and networking (steph-note: half agree, there is the “writing and being read and getting some recognition” goal too — and that is not necessarily social interaction and does not necessarily lead to network contacts)

What suicide girls get right: low price, real people, real lives, social stuff like chat, pictures, etc. They have the connections between the people as the primary way to go around.


  • iTunes
  • Pandora (until recently)
  • After the fact (eBay: reputation, Netflix: friends in a tab, Amazon: recommendations from other users, Basecamp: not that social, fails some of the critical tests)

The Buddylist is the Centre of the Universe…

A case against IM being disruptive: the user chooses how disruptive the client is (blings, pop-up messages, etc… same with e-mail)

Totally acceptable to not answer on IM. But also, maybe at times your personal productivity is less important than your relationship with the person IMing you.

“I am made greater by the sum of my connections, and so are my connections.”

(Give to others, and they’ll give to you. Help your buddies out, be there for them, and others will be there for you when you need them.)

List of hand-picked people who are on your list.

Groups help huge communities scale, in the way they bring them down to manageable sizes for human beings again. (Dunbar constant, roughly 150 people.)

Six degrees of connection doesn’t work. People are strangers. Even second degree is really weak.

Difference between people you really talk to, and “contacts” (often people will have two accounts => should build this kind of thing into the service — cf. Twitter with “friends” and “people you follow”).

Me, Mine, and Market.

Market: it’s the marketplace where the application builders are going to be able to make money by supporting my interaction/networking with “mine”.

You can’t “make an app social”, you need to start over most of the time.

Think about the social dimension first, and then what the market is. E.g. social invoicing app, what could the market be? Finding people to do work for you. And then you can invoice them using the system.

E.g. Individual: “I need a perfect black dress for that dinner party.” => who knows where to shop for the most fashionable stuff? => market = buying the perfect black dress, with commission to the recommender. (New social business model!)

Facebook profile: all about flow, it’s not static. It’s a collection of stuff going on in my world. Information about my blog (posts), friends… I don’t have to do anything, and it changes.

It represents my links to the world. People want to belong. Be in a context where what they do and say matters. Make it easy for users to find other people who will care about them.

Orkut failed because it was just social networking for the sake of social networking. Not targeted at a specific group of people. Nobody who cares! Disease-like replication and then died down. Nothing to do there.

Swarm intelligence. People align around authority and influence. Some people are more connected then others. Inevitable. Swarmth = Stowe-speak for measure of reputation. As soon as reputation brings something to those who have it, charlatans step in and try to figure out how to game the system. Need to be aware of that, to discover those cheating mechanisms and counter them.

General principle: things are flowing, and we want to support the rapid flow of information (ie, stuff that goes in my profile). “traffic”: do you make it possible for people to get information from a variety of sources delivered quickly to them? (e.g. Facebook bookmarklet) (traffic=possible metric).

The media hold the pieces, but not the sense of the conversation. You need to immerse yourself into the flow to get it. How transformative is it to get a constant flow of information from people you care about? Can’t evaluate that from the outside.


cf. David Weinberger: tags matter for social reasons. The power of classification is handed out to the users. They use it to find information and to find each other. They define implicit social groupings.

If people don’t “get” tags, the interface isn’t good. Because the concept is really simple. (e.g. Flickr, get it right)


Primary abiding motivator of anybody on the internet: discovery (things, places, people, self)

One of Stowe’s pet peeves: Groups and Groupings

Networks are asymmetric, accept it. Everybody is not equal in a group. The groups are always to some extent asymmetric.

Groupings are ad hoc assemblages of peope with similar interests (from my point of view). (My buddy list categorisation.)

Groups try to be symmetric.

Community of tags. They happen automatically.

Power Laws

There will always be people with more power than others, get over it. The recommendation of somebody with more swarmth should count more than that of one with no swarmth.

Accept and work with the imbalance of power.

But careful! The people decide who has more swarmth. And you need to constantly counter the games. Natural social systems are self-policient (sp?).


Measure and reward swarmth (steph-note: !== popularity, quantity)

Reputation is not transportable from one network to another.

Deep Design

  • (neighbours!)
  • (events are nothing without people!!)
  • Facebook
  • ThisNext (about design and fashion)

First, just build the social app. Once the social stuff is in place, build the market (see

Journal where you can integrate music references. With backlinks from artists.

Mistake? tags aren’t source of groupings.

steph-thought: Flickr groups are not just about people, they are about editing content (creating collective photo albums).

If you have an existing social app, and an entrenched body of users, to make people switch to your new product you need to be an order of magnitude better.

Tag beacons: a recommended tag (e.g. lift07)

If you make people tag an item, the tags used stabilize over time. After a while, the same 10-15 tags. Little chance a new user two years latter will suddenly introduce another tag.

ThisNext is pretty. A piece of social interaction stuff missing however — can’t communicate with other people. Profile just leads to recommendations.

Cautionary Tales

Basecamp and the Federation of Work: multiple logins, domains — fragmentation. Wanted to be able to pull everything in a single place. Not simple to keep track of everything one has in the system. Pervasive static models with hardly any flow. It’s an online groupware app, not a social app. It doesn’t put me in the foreground. is about finding people who are in your zipcode. I remember Stowe did a post on this some time back. “Where’s the people?”

You only get one first launch. What’s the point of missing it by doing it before you got to the social tipping point?

Blinksale: where’s the market? (invoicing thing)


Where is all this going? All commerce on the internet in the future will be social. Put in context of social recommendations etc (perfect little black dresses). A social iTunes — what would it look like? They could acquire and integrate them to iTunes, for example. I could recommend music to my friends via iTunes…

Calendars are hard! We’re still waiting for the perfect (at least good) calendar-sharing system.

Social browsing… “What should I look at today, based on recommendations of these n people I really find smart?”

Safety/privacy concerns: solutions we have in the offline world need to be emulated online.

Basic Bilingual and Bunny's Technorati Tags Plugins Updated for WordPress 2.1 [en]

[fr] Mise à jour de mes deux plugins pour WP2.1 qui les cassait gravement. Mises à jour pas testées, à manier avec précaution.

Thanks to Sudar, who took the trouble to fix Bunny’s Technorati Tags so that it worked with WP2.1, here are up-to-date version of these two plugins, Bunny’s Technorati Tags and Basic Bilingual:

The previous, WordPress 2.0-compatible versions are still available:

Warning: these old versions suffer from the empties custom fields problem. Don’t use them with 2.1.

Disclaimer: I’m swamped with work, haven’t upgraded yet, and haven’t tested the new versions of the plugins. Use carefully. Let me know if there are glitches. Bunny’s Technorati Tags is the very version Sudar put online (I’m making it available here mainly as there are links to it out there beyond my control, not the least from the wiki which has been closed to editing due to spam.) For Basic Bilingual, however, I adapted the code Sudar had added to Bunny Tags, but I don’t fully understand if it works. Backup, try gingerly, and please leave comments here to let others (and myself) know if it works or breaks.


Hack: Make Bunny Tags Point to Your Blog Tagspace [en]

[fr] Un petit bidouillage pour que mon plugin wordpress pour ajouter des tags ne montre (dans Technorati) que les billets de votre propre blog.

Here’s a quick hack for all of you who, like Fabienne, are disappointed that my Bunny’s Technorati Tags plugin points to the technorati tagspace instead of just your own posts.

For it to work, your plugin files need to be writable (how to do this is beyond the scope of this post, but try looking for a way to chmod 777 or whatever in your FTP program; if you use the command line, then chmod -R 777 wp-content/plugins should do it). Then, open the plugin editor (WP admin screen > Plugins > Plugin Editor) and edit the file for Bunny’s Technorati Tags.

Look for this code:

 $tag_link='<a href="' . urlencode(urldecode($tag))
 . '" title="' . __('See the Technorati tag page for', 'BunnyTags') . ' ''
 . urldecode($tag) . ''." rel="tag">' . $display_tag . '</a>' . $separator;
 // make a link to the technorati tag page, with tag link text

And replace it with this:

 $tag_link='<a href="' . urlencode(urldecode($tag))
 . '?from=' . get_settings('home') . '" title="'
 . __('On Technorati: see posts from this blog tagged', 'BunnyTags') . ' ''
 . urldecode($tag) . ''." rel="tag">' . $display_tag . '</a>' . $separator;
 // make a link to the technorati tag page, with tag link text

This isn’t quite the same as pointing them to a page on your blog which contains all the posts. But the final result is pretty similar. Otherwise, Fabienne says that Jerome’s Keywords Plugin does the trick for her.

Quelques balises HTML pour blogueurs [fr]

[en] A few HTML tags for bloggers. Don't use the visual editor is my recommendation. It sometimes creates hairy problems.

Je recommande en général de ne pas utiliser “l’éditeur visuel” lorsqu’on écrit des billets dans WordPress. L’éditeur visuel vous montre directement, dans le texte que vous écrivez, le gras en gras, les listes sous forme de liste avec des petits points devant, les liens en bleu souligné, etc. Malheureusement les éditeurs visuels sont imparfaits et génèrent souvent plus de problèmes qu’ils n’en résolvent.

Pour désactiver l’éditeur visuel, allez sous “Users/Utilisateurs” et puis sous “Your Profile/Votre Profil”. Tout en bas de cette page, il y a une case à cocher. Vérifiez qu’elle soit décochée, et mettez à jour les réglages.

Votre éditeur de billets est maintenant décoré d’une rangée de boutons un peu différente d’avant: sélectionnez du texte, cliquez sur le bouton approprié, et des caractères étranges apparaîtront de part et d’autre du texte que vous aviez sélectionné. C’est du HTML. HTML?! Pas de panique, c’est pas si compliqué. Voici ce que vous avez besoin de savoir:

  • le HTML, c’est en fait des petits “codes secrets” qui disent au navigateur de formatter d’une façon particulière le texte qu’ils entourent (par exemple: mettre en gras, faire une liste, faire un paragraphe, faire un lien).
  • ces codes secrets se nomment “balises”. Les balises vont toujours par deux: une qui ouvre, une qui ferme.


<em>du texte mis en italiques (emphasis)</em>

Ce qui est entre parenthèses angulaires < et > ne va pas s’afficher dans votre texte. Ce sont juste des indications que va interpréter le navigateur web. En l’occurence, il mettra le texte ci-dessus en italiques.

Voici quelques balises que vous rencontrerez en utilisant les boutons de WordPress:

  • <em> ... </em> met le texte qu’elles délimitent en italiques
  • <strong> ... </strong> en gras
  • <a href=""> ... </a> crée un lien qui nous enverra sur si on clique dessus
  • <ul> ... </ul>, <ol> ... </ol> et <li> ... </li> sont utilisés pour faire des listes (explications ultérieures).

Journée au Forum des 100 de l'Hebdo [fr]

[en] I'm spending my day at the Forum des 100 (a selection of 100 local personalities by l'Hebdo, a regional weekly magazine). My computer is still being repaired, and to top it all I've (temporarily) lost my internet connection at home.

J’ai piqué à  Anne Dominique (assise à  côté de moi) le joli Powerbook qu’elle a amené au Forum des 100. Comment?

  1. Mon ordinateur est toujours en réparation, et je n’ai depuis quelques jours même plus de connexion à  la maison (dans quelques semaines/mois, cependant, je devrais être l’heureuse propriétaire d’un nouveau Macbook.

  2. Il y a quelques semaines, j’ai reçu une lettre m’annonçant que je faisais partie des fameux “100” de l’Hebdo et que j’étais donc invitée à  passer mon jeudi 18 mai (aujourd’hui!) dans l’Amphimax de l’UNIL.

Quelques premières impressions:

  • que de mecs en costard! (bienvenue en Suisse Romande, me dit ma voisine.)
  • les verres dans lesquels on sert le jus d’orange sont vraiment petits, probablement pour nous forcer à  faire des allers-retours…
  • un webcast de la conférence (le lien est en haut à  droite) est disponible, vous pouvez donc la suivre depuis votre ordinateur
  • le modérateur (et néanmoins blogueur!) Bruno Giussani a annoncé lors des informations pratiques le tag à  utiliser pour les personnes couvrant la conférence sur leurs blogs: forumdes100
  • pas d’accent sur mon prénom, ni sur le badge, ni sur la liste des participants (malgré les nombreuses autres coquilles que j’ai pu voir!) — et ils ont même épelé “blogueuse” correctement (contrairement à  la lettre d’invitation qui m’a propulsée “blogeuse”…)

Ah oui! Bruno a aussi attiré notre attention (je suis assise à  côté de l’équipe de lift06) sur le fait qu’il y avait des fontaines à  eau dans la salle et des points d’alimentation pour laptops dans la salle. (Il se souvient des mes premières impressions de lift06…)

Voilà ! Je vais rendre l’ordinateur à  sa propriétaire. Passez une bonne journée!

PS: ah oui, pas de photos, je suis encore en train d’essayer de récuperer les dernières photos effacées de ma carte mémoire, qui ont péri avec le disque dur de mon iBook…

ETech: I'm at Microformats BOF! [en]

[fr] Petite démonstration avec apparition vidéo de bibi à  ETech, dans un peu moins de deux heures. Didier Barbas a bossé dur sur le projet!

Well, almost. There should be a minute or so of video footage of me in Kevin‘s lightening demo on tags during the Microformats Panel tonight.

Check it out! It has to do with this little project. Didier Barbas wrote the code, graduating from coding slave to coding hero in the process. If you need an Iron Coder, hire him! (He tells me he loves it…)

So, head off to Microformats BOF.

Get Listed in Technorati Blog Search [en]

[fr] Technorati est le meilleur moteur de recherche spécialisé dans les blogs. Pour être listé dedans, il est important que votre outil de weblog envoie un ping à  Technorati chaque fois que vous publiez un billet. Ainsi, vos tags seront pris en compte.

Technorati comporte également un répertoire de blogs sur lequel je compte m'appuyer pour la nouvelle version de SwissBlogs. Pour y être listé, il suffit de créer un compte chez Technorati et de déclarer votre blog. N'oubliez pas de lui ajouter des tags! Helvetia, en particulier, si c'est un blog suisse.

Il est aussi facile de faire ajouter son blog dans le répertoire sans faire de compte chez Technorati. Il suffit d'ajouter le code suivant (à  adapter selon vos besoins) pour chaque tag que vous désirez attribuer à  votre blog, dans un billet ou quelque part sur la page principale de votre blog: <a href="" rel="tag directory">Je suis un blog suisse!</a>

You know Technorati is just about the best blog search engine out there. If you want the right people to be able to find you, you should be in Technorati.

First, you want to ping Technorati. Normally, your blogging software does this for you. If it doesn’t, you need to (a) bug your blogging software provider to implement pinging Technorati and (b) in the meantime, ping manually each time you post. Not sure if you’re pinging or not? Do a search for your URL. If Technorati shows your blog title, you have pinged at least once.

Second, you want to be in the Blog Finder Directory. There are two ways to do this.

  1. [Sign up for an account]( "It's easy! Create a Technorati account.") and once that is done, [claim your blog]( "It's easy too! Tell Technorati which blogs are yours."). You can then [configure your blog]( "Direct link to configuring your first claimed blog.") to add tags and other juicy bits of information (optional). If you have a swiss blog, try adding the tag [helvetia]( "See list of blogs tagged helvetia.") to your blog. Surprises in store soon.
  2. If you don't want to bother with signing up with Technorati or claiming your blog, it's easy: just add directory tags to your blog. Directory tags are [like tags]( "How to tag, in French."), only you need to use the <code>rel="tag directory"</code> attribute on the link instead of just <code>rel="tag"</code>. Example? Add the following code anywhere on your blog to be tagged as "helvetia": <code><a href="" rel="tag directory">I'm a swiss blog!</a></code>. Adapt to any tag you wish to use. You can add upto 20 per blog.

Questions in the comments, please!

Comment faire des tags? [fr]

[en] An explanation on how to tag, manually, using my plugin, or by using a blog editor like Ecto.

Virginie me demande en passant dans un e-mail comment faire des tags. Elle a suivi mes bons conseils comme une grande et a maintenant un profile Technorati, et elle aimerait tirer le meilleur parti de ce moteur de recherche spécialisé dans les blogs.

Je me rends compte, du coup, que même si je parle beaucoup des tags, c’est souvent en anglais.

C’est quoi, un tag?

Un tag, c’est comme une étiquette ou un mot-clé que l’on collerait sur un billet ou un blog. Cela nous aide à  nous y retrouver, et ça permet à  d’autres de trouver nos billets. Technorati est très utile pour cela. Ce n’est pas la même chose que les catégories, qui devraient rester plutôt génériques (les miennes ne sont pas un exemple à  suivre, allez donc voir plus loin). Pour les choisir, facile: on pense à  ce qu’on a écrit et on laisse venir l’inspiration.

Comment je fais?

Trois solutions. A la main, avec mon plugin WordPress, ou bien en utilisant un programme qui comprend les tags, comme ecto, pour publier ses billets.

Je développe.

A la main

Technorati va se promener sur les blogs à  la recherche de tags. Un tag, pour technorati, c’est un lien comprenant l’attribut rel="tag". Le dernier morceau de l’URL du lien est considéré comme le “tag” lui-même, le mot qu’il va indexer. Les liens en question peuvent se trouver n’importe où dans le billet. L’usage veut qu’on les collectionne en fin de billet, mais ce n’est pas nécessaire.

Quelques exemples:

<a href="" rel="tag">Romandie</a>
<a href="" rel="tag">la Suisse Romande</a>
<a href="" rel="tag">Romandie</a>

Ces trois liens seront tous interprétés par Technorati comme le tag Romandie et le billet les contenant apparaîtra sur cette page. Vous noterez que le lien n’a pas besoin de pointer vers Technorati (mais le dernier morceau de l’URL doit être le nom du tag) et que le texte lié est libre.

Donc, si on veut, on peut parsemer son texte de liens-tags. Mais c’est fastidieux.

Bunny’s Technorati Tags

J’ai écrit un plugin WordPress pour pouvoir taguer facilement nos billets. Pour cela, passez d’abord à  la dernière version de WordPress.

Ensuite, copiez dans le répertoire “plugins” de votre site le fichier contenant le plugin. Activez-le dans l’espace d’administration de WordPress. Vous verrez ensuite dans votre formulaire d’écriture de billet un champ supplémentaire intitulé “tags”. Quand vous écrivez un billet, jetez-y quelques mots, et ils seront automatiquement convertis en tags pour Technorati.



On n’est pas obligé de passer par l’interface d’administration de son blog pour publier des billets. On peut aussi installer sur son ordinateur un programme qui permet de faire tout ça “à  distance”. Ecto en est un, très bon, qui permet d’ajouter des tags à  nos billets. Il est en anglais et n’est pas gratuit même si on peut le tester durant quelques semaines gratuitement. A essayer!

Pas clair?

Il vous faut plus de précisions? Demandez!

Tags and Categories are not the Same! [en]

[fr] Les tags et les catégories, ce n'est pas la même chose. En bref, les catégories forment une structure hiérarchique, prédéfinie, qui régit l'architecture de notre contenu et aide autrui à s'y retrouver. Les tags sont spontanés, ad hoc, de granularité variable, tournés vers le partage et la recherche d'information.

Update, Sept. 2007: when I saw Matt in San Francisco this winter, he told me he had finally “seen the light” (his words!) about tags and categories. Six months later, it’s a reality for WordPress users. Thanks for listening.

I got a bit heated up last night between Matt’s comment that tags and categories function the same and a discussion I was having with Kevin on IM at the same time, about the fact that Technorati parses categories as tags.

I went back to read two of my old posts: Technorati Tagified and Plugin Idea: Weighted Tags by Category which I wrote about a year ago. In both, it’s very clear that as a user, I don’t percieve tags to be the same thing as categories. Tags were something like “public keywords”. Is anybody here going to say that keywords and categories are the same thing? (There is a difference between keywords and tags, but this isn’t the topic here; keywords and tags are IMHO much closer in nature than tags and categories).

Here are, in my opinion, the main differences between tags and categories, from the “tagger” point of view.

  • categories exist before the item I’m categorizing, whereas tags are created in reaction to the item, often in an ad hoc manner: I need to fit the item in a category, but I adapt tags to the item;
  • categories should be few, tags many;
  • categories are expected to have a pretty constant granularity, whereas tags can be very general like “switzerland” or very particular like “bloggyfriday“;
  • categories are planned, tags are spontanous, they have a brainstorm-like nature, as Kevin explains very well: You look at the picture and type in the few words it makes you think of, move on to the next, and you’re done.
  • relations between categories are tree-like, but those between tags are network-like;
  • categories are something you choose, tags are generally something you gush out;
  • categories help me classify what I’m talking about, and tags help me share or spread it;

There’s nothing wrong with Technorati treating categories as tags. I’d say categories are a kind of tag. They are special tags you plan in advance to delimit zones of content, and that you display them on your blog to help your readers find their way through what you say or separate areas of interest (ie, my Grandma will be interested by my Life and Ramblings category and subscribe to that if she has an RSS reader, but she knows she doesn’t care about anything in the Geek category. (By the way, CTTS is not a good example of this, the categories are a real mess.)

So, let’s say categories are tags. I can agree with that. But tags are not categories! Tags help people going through a “search” process. Click on a tag to see related posts/photos. See things outside the world of this particular weblog which have the same label attached. Provide a handy label to collect writings, photos, and stuff from a wide variety of people without requiring them to change the architecture of their blog content (their categories). If you want to, yeah, you can drop categories and use only tags. It works on But have you noticed how most Flickr users have in addition to tagging their photos? Sets aren’t categories, but they can be close. They are a way of presenting and organizing things for human beings rather than machines, search engines, database queries.

To get back to my complaint that does not provide real tags, it’s mainly a question of user interface. I don’t care if from a software point of view, tags and categories are the same thing for WordPress. As a user, I need a field in which I can let my fingers gush out keyword-tags once I’ve finished writing my post. I also need someplace to define and structure category-tags. I need to be able to define how to display these two kids of tags (if you want to call them both that) on my blog, because they are ways of classifying or labeling information which I live very differently.

Am I a tag weirdo? Do you also perceive a difference between tags and categories? How would you express or define it? If categories and tags are the same, the new WP2.0 interface for categories should make the Bunny Tags Plugin obsolete — does it?