Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

I've been thinking a lot about my addiction to social software, business models and what this is all about. Frank has a great quote from Douglas Adams about small, green pieces of paper which is a really good place to start.

"Small, Green Pieces of Paper"

Douglas Adams
From the radio script for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western spiral arm of the galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this, at a distance of roughly ninety million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet, whose ape descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea. This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small, green pieces of paper, which is odd, because on the whole, it wasn't the small, green pieces of paper which were unhappy. And so the problem remained, and lots of the people were mean, and most of them were miserable, even the ones with digital watches. Many were increasingly of the opinion that they'd all made a big mistake coming down from the trees in the first place, and some said that even the trees had been a bad move, and that no-one should ever have left the oceans. And then one day, nearly two thousand years after one man had been nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be to be nice to people for a change, a girl, sitting on her own in a small cafe in Rickmansworth suddenly realised what it was that had been going wrong all this time and she finally knew how the world could be made a good and happy place. This time it was right, it would work, and no-one would have to get nalied to anything. Sadly, however, before she could get to a phone to tell anyone, the Earth was unexpectedly demolished to make way for a new hyperspace bypass and so the idea was lost forever.
This obviously has a lot to do with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.
  1. Safety/security: out of danger
  2. Belonginess and Love: affiliate with others, be accepted
  3. Esteem: to achieve, be competent, gain approval and recognition
When people are struggling to survive and be safe they don't have much time to worry about #2 and #3. Now that part of the world is relatively safe and well fed, we're stuck trying to figure out #2 and #3. Listening to CDs, watching TV and playing video games helps you forget that no one loves you and that you have no self-esteem, but doesn't address the basic problems. I have a sense that blogging can help your self-esteem, help you find more people like yourself and increase your sense of belonging. Services like meetup can take this to the real world. I really think that we have the opportunity to address some of the basic problems in the human condition through the development of social software. I'm sure there is a business model in here somewhere, but I'm fascinated by the idea of technology helping people build self-esteem and communities. I know that we've had tools for awhile now and online communities are not a new thing, but I think the barrier to entry continues to decline and the tools keep getting better. I'm also quite interested in how this relates to mobile phones. hmm...


Transforming a world of packaged software and pay-per-view mentality into a web services/blur the edge between tool and web page, give it away for free and build value on trust - is not only fun, but eventually profit fulfilling.

1. We have to create end-user experiences that so rock the house, that business models are the last thing we think about. "I'd be only more than HAPPY to pay for this - once I've gotten into the groove with it". It's the latency between starting off in a network and when the payoff happens - that's the trick. If we stick to the "dabble for free, pay for usage" model, then everyone will always be happy. Only when an environment delivers enough value to charge for something, does it deserve to receive those revenues.

2. I'd never THINK of using the T word (tools) but if Tim O'Reilly can talk about new paradigms, so can I. Tools today are different. They need to be. People will pay for tools.

3. Inter-connection. What of all these different systems all worked together? We can share revenue streams and stand on each other's shoulders. It'll make Doc happy and proud.

4. I'm sorry - I talk so much. Time to shut up and get the PeopleAggregator going.

Today a former co-worker was calling me, several times, cool. He was carrying on an IM conversaton with a third person.

White papers were available regarding the questions asked. But, evalution was already proceeding, preceeding any reading of the relevant information.

The first two of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs may apply here.

Some of the questions were qualifiers on the order of Safety/security -- are we in the ballpark of a common understanding? Despite one's assumptions, this can be a large hurdle.

The next level, where we were headed in our conversations could be, 2.affiliate with others, where we could speak to a common set of assumptions.

All in all, this was a discussion where A trusts B. B is talking with C about A. And C is interested in A. And C trusts B.

Trust may not be enough. Common understanding may be more important.

To the point, if there were a way for A, B, and C to converge on a common understanding, to "meet up" as it were, the common conversation could advance, confidently.

Obviously I'm hard-core technically, and my use case could be overly restrictive.

But a descriptive environment about my current beliefs could automate some of the "discussion" that goes on.

To the extent that the environment eliminates "redundant and duplicate" explanation there is value added to the social context.

I'd take it a step forward - the ultimate value comes from the ability to self-actualize - and blogging and participating in online networks can enable this. For me its done all of these - helped my self-esteem, enabled me to connect with people like me (and i'd add unlike me, with facets that draw me like a magnet), and increased my sense of belonging. And its done more - its helped me discover, recognize and act on a new path of self-actualization. Spiralling growth.

Dina: Hear hear!

Dina: Hear hear! :)

And if it was not only a question of tools?

And if the tools were just helping people who are inclined to communicate already?

And if the people in fact, do not communicate together or don't build social group because they don't want it?

I'm the first to be really happy to meet people in real life BUT not all people want that, some don't want at all, some don't want to be part of internet.

The tools are here but for a long time on different forms, they are easier and easier to use, the interoperability is better each day and so diminish the frustration of using something with weird behaviour... BUT the humans have not changed so much and many of them do not want to participate.

We can't force them. Is it a question of education or a simple right to stand alone by yourself.

many questions, but I see weblogs often as usenet in the past. A small community, small enough to give the feeling that we are a wide international community. When Usenet has increased too much, the feeling of the Usenet community has disappeared.

Dina is refering to the top level of self-actualization. The bottom one, pyhysical sustainence, still largely relies on little green pieces of paper.

Karl : Hopefully blogs will fare better than Usenet did. I think there are more feedback loops both positive and negative which might allow it to sustain more scale.

The whole game depends on whether or not self-actualization can produce little green pieces of paper. Participatory applications need to provide sustainable economic models for their power users. Growth stalls without power users because newbies have neither role models nor feedback to inspire participation.

If a blog like Gawker is economically self-sufficient (and I don't know if it is), then smart money packages up the model so that the most competent and prolific participants can focus 100% on what they love to do- thereby inspiring others to join the party. For better or for worse, little green pieces of paper nourish the soil. And healthy soil encourages new waves of participants to depart from the safety and selflessness of traditional content.

With new faces come new ideas, new attempts at gaining approval, and new ways to participate. If today's Gawker is sustainable, then tomorrow's wave of new faces will generate new opportunities. In the near future, a Gawker with an extra handful of green paper might be the economic incentive that inspires competent audience members with camera phones to become moblogging gawkerazzi, further fueling growth and participation. And once again, smart money packages up the process into a reusable model and spreads the wealth.

In the long run, little green pieces of paper will fuel the growth and success of participatory applications, making it easier and easier for audiences to participate and for participants to feel acceptance and recognition.

Um, Joi? I think you, and most of the commenters on this post, need to spend more time in the Big Blue Room. Ultimately community is about people, not software. Trying to use software to automate human interaction is backwards. Instead, software can automate human-computer interaction, allowing more time for human-human interaction.

Katherine, with all due respect, I couldn't disagree with you more. Services like LinkedIn, Friendster, and many others make it possible to meet people you wouldn't have otherwise.

I met my girlfriend on the Internet. Without the Internet, I would never have met her -- statistically, I probably would have been more likely to be killed by lightning. Internet-based tools make it possible to find friends from a vastly larger pool than simply relying on face-to-face encounters, enabling us to be more selective and find people more uniquely suited to us.

There's a wonderful scene that illustrates this in the movie A Little Romance. I can't find the screenplay online, but as I remember it, the teenage French boy says to the teenage American girl that for each person, there's only one perfect person in the world -- throughout history in fact. He says, what if my one perfect girl lived in another time? Then I'm screwed. They think about it a moment and then hold hands... perfect.

The Internet makes it far easier, far more likely to find far more friends who are far more compatible with you than has ever been possible in the past.

Dina, I agree that self-actualization is the ultimate goal (though Maslow later added self-transcendence beyond it, I haven't thought about it enough to know whether I agree). But how many people get to that level? According to Maslow, we can't focus on a level of the hierarchy until we've satisfied our needs in the levels below. If, as Douglas Adams wrote...

This planet has, or had, a problem, which was this. Most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time.
...are these people unhappy because, though they have acheived belongingness and love, they have yet to achieve self-actualization? Somehow I doubt it and think that the problem is more basic.

"I just wanna be loved!" -- H. Fierstein

First of all, right on, Marc. We are at such an early stage in all this that the ONLY way to go is to create these tools (tools is a pretty good word, actually), let people play with the basic model for free and then charge a reasonable free for the juiced-up version for the people that want to pay for more.

Make it flexible and then watch what people do with it. Get inspired.

Connect the dots.

Business models happen.

I stand with Katherine, however, on the social software question. Social software cannot increase anyone's self-esteem. It can be used as a means to open some internal doors, to act as a catalyst, perhaps, but to think it can do more than that is to trivialize the psychological issues involved.

If people who feel like outcasts feel like they "belong" in the context of a social software setting, it is no guarantee that this effect will translate to their F2F relationships. I would argue that the opposite is far more likely.

Social software is absolutely wonderful for business networking, group projects, online community building and the like, but I believe, Joi, that "to address some of the basic problems in the human condition through the development of social software" is wrongheaded. That is a wetware issue.

But the beauty part is this: social software can help people from all over the world talk about these issues in order to wrestle with the big questions, to propose solutions and to organize their implementation.

I think the mobile phone connection will be answered, at least in part, by the concept of presence, allowing participants or members to offer varying degrees of availability to the network depending on identity, location, attention, interest and ability.

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