A term I am using with increased frequency is: social architecture.
Specifically, social architecture as a core design principle of building modern technology platforms like: Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and even Google.
Social architecture is best thought of as a cross between three elements: interface design, social media functionality and user engagement strategy. In order for a modern tech platform to become a massive success it must be able to offer a viral coefficient to bring in new users and it must then be able to connect those users and create enough engagement to keep people coming back.
Social Architecture Definition
The roots of social architecture are in sociology principles, especially relating to community.
Social architecture, as related to designing technology platforms, draws on principles from social media but expands into much greater technical depth and scale.
Social media spans many genres: marketing, design, PR and communications. Social architecture in my mind is something a bit different. Social architecture is platform design: how do you architect communities, tools and marketplaces at scale? To do so, requires the technical infrastructure (distributed systems, feed design, etc) as well as the user interface and UX strategy to create discoverability, engagement and connection.
Social Architecture And Platform Design
The most obvious application of social architecture is within the framework of social networks and marketplaces.
However social networks themselves are an aggregation of tools and strategies that can be dissected and broken into individual components: Profiles, folksonomy, crowd sourcing, voting, analytics, platforms, openness and search. These elements that can exist on their own and outside a walled garden or siloed platform.
Social Architects: The New In-Demand Talent
So who then are the architects? Facebook has clearly led the way from an infrastructure perspective with the introduction of the News Feed and photos. However, News Feed builds on the excellent ground work laid by interactive agencies and social media teams.
The difference is that agency and brand managers tend to think in terms of one-off strategies: viral marketing campaigns, launches and landing pages or short lived Facebook apps. To me social architecture is a much broader set of principles and strategies and work best when applied to platforms.
Social media architects (those applying SA principles) are the developers and product conceptualization gurus. They are the product manager guys and gals working to assist platforms with user-experience and enhance or grow online portals (AOL, Yahoo, Facebook).
The demand for this talent has only just begun.
In the past two weeks I have advised several digital agencies on campaigns requiring social expertise. They all want to know how to make something viral? While there are elements of social design or architecture in building a marketing campaign, designing the core infrastructure tenants of a platform is very different.
My interest is not in the viral, but in the sustainable. How do we build new online worlds and communities that provide for greater global connection? Social architecture is how we will get there.
The socialization of the Internet continues.