Three Stages of Data Maturity:
1. Data exists
2. Data is integrated
3. Integrated data is exposed to useful applications.
Currently, Social networking is firmly in stage 2 development. Facebook, Plaxo, and even thinner applications like Twitter allow some amounts of data integration. Most notably, we are able to take our e-mail lists and mine them for rapid social-network inclusion.
As Twitter lets us know, this is "Wicked Awesome" when compared to the much less wicked awesome option of not being able to do this at all. I would never say that this is not one of the best things to happen ever.
So that is the most common instance of data integration.
The next instance is of data integration is mere aggregation. This is another instance of step 2, and should not be confused with a useful application. This is being done sometimes with and sometimes without your consent on applications like Plaxo (with) and Facebook (not-so-with).
Plaxo's new Pulse feature lets you aggregate your little social fanny right off with all these services:
This is pretty nifty when it's all up and running. But, in the end, its just another aggregator presented in a less-than-stunning way.
Our data is linearly presented in a non-searchable, non-archiveable, non-contextual, ultimately non-useful data stream that you need to baby sit in order to get value from.
Where have we seen this before? Yes, on Facebook:
Are Facebook and Plaxo evil or worthless? Heck no. I use them every day. But are they actually social software? Only on a very limited, basic level.
This is seriously the 16k VisiCalc spreadsheet era of social networking and social media. You can see in the image to the right that the idea of what a powerful spreadsheet is certainly there in VisiCalc. But the screen resolution, color choices (green, green or green), and the functionality just weren't there yet.
This is what we are dealing with today -- rudimentary blunt-object approaches like Facebook. I'm glad I can find out quickly what Laurel Papworth and Sean Liu are doing on the other side of the Pacific, what Toby and Sue are doing in the UK, and what's going on in the Bay Area all from one page on my desk in Seattle. But it's merely a step in social computing's maturation.
We have fully achieved two milestones. We have catalogued and visualized our social networks. We've seen that a mere 168 of our closest friends can yield a 3-degree network of 3,451,100 (or so). We've seen that we can do some nice things and do some stupid things.
But we haven't really been able to do useful things. And that's the real next step. Exposing the social networks we have built to useful applications that actually do something.
Imagine if Word or Google Docs or Zoho could directly tap into your Facebook network or your LinkedIn Network. Then you would immediately have power. Your network would become part of your creative process for real.
Why has this not happened? Because the social network you have built on Facebook or on LinkedIn is the only asset they have. You and I have built their value proposition. But in order to maintain its value for them, they must squander its value for you.
Therefore, we are currently in a state of arrested development. Social networking web site providers gain value through step two and are threatened by step three. Step three is when we mature beyond throwing chickens and get into the real value of social networking and social media.