Talk to my machine

Today, two loosely-related points about social software. Here’s the first. When I heard about coComment, it seemed like a really good idea; I signed up not once but twice (once for each of my main blogs). (Yes, I’ve got more than two blogs. Sort of. It’s a long story.) But I’ve been increasingly dissatisfied with it since then, and Ben Metcalfe has explained why.

What I hadn’t realised was that the coComment bookmarklet submit[s] the comment to both the coComment server and the original blog server. Consequently,

at the point of submission your comment is essentially semantically forked – with a version going into coComment and an identical version going into the blog server.

Ugh. As Ben says, if the blog administrator – or, in the case of sites which allow comment editing, the commenter hirself – chooses to edit the content of the comment, it isn’t reflected in the coComment representation of the post conversation. The possibilities for abuse are obvious – look at the comments thread below this post.

What’s worse is that the coComment representation of discussion is only of those who have also used coComment to submit their comment. Ugh^2. This is yet another attempt at snowball-effect marketing, in other words: coComment becomes useful when it gains momentum, which it gets from adopters (like me) who started using it before it was useful, in the hope that it would gain sufficient momentum to become useful.

To which I can only say, sod that for a game of soldiers. Flickr would still be useful for me if I were the only Flickr user in the world; Simpy would still be useful if I were the only user. And so on – it’s part of the definition of social software that it’s useful for everyone, even for a single user with no interest in its ‘socialness’. First you build functionality that works, then you extract value from the use of that functionality, then you expose that value back to the users. (Or user.) And, er, that’s it. At no point in the process do you say “hold on, we need to get more people in here before we go on”.

It could have been so different – although I confess that a profound ignorance of the underlying technology is lurking behind that ‘could’. When I comment on a blog that I don’t follow, what I want is to grab a comment feed from that specific post and look at it along with other comment feeds from blog posts I’ve commented on (excluding blogs whose post feeds I read – but in the first instance those exclusions could be managed manually). And, er, that’s it – I don’t want or need to bring a third party into the equation.

Apps like coComment are street performers – without a big crowd looking the same way there’s no event. Apps like Simpy are Katamari meetings: the crowd is the event. It’s obvious to me which of the two looks more like ‘social software’. Unfortunately it’s also obvious which of the two is easier to monetise.

Which brings us to the second point…

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