Real-Time Web Summit. Workshops ran the gamut of real-time Web applications and services. They addressed the impact of the real-time Web on search, feeds, aggregation and even branding and marketing. But several topics and terms were not discussed as much as one might have expected: "social," "interaction," and "communication." Perhaps they were assumed. But their absence from discussion spoke of something bigger; namely, our tendency to still view Web content, even real-time content, as information.It has been a few weeks since the ReadWriteWeb
This guest post was written by Adrian Chan.
Of course, communication involves information. Information access and distribution are part of what makes social media interesting. Information is also an attribute of social relationships — which are another good reason to respect social media. But the tools and practices of our "status culture" are also a means of communication; communication that uses social media in personal, social and public ways and that combines both system messaging and user messages in ways that are conversational.
Making Meta From Conversational Media
This "conversational" content may look like information. But when it is the product of mediated conversation, content conceals dynamics and relationships: social forces that are by their nature implicit and tacit.
The real-time Web industry is poised to go "meta" and to extract and extend greater value from the information captured, mined and repurposed in real time. But for this to occur, the implicit of social interaction and communication will need to become explicit.
Consider what we can already observe and infer from content and information produced on the real-time Web: influence, social capital, attention, relationships, trending topics. We accomplish this by means of algorithms and analyses based on incomplete social information. The real-time Web doesn't yet furnish much social meta data. Could it be restored after the fact — from interactions, relationships and social meanings read between the lines?
The real-time Web's conversational content is produced through uncoupled, or at best loosely coupled, posts. Can dialog, relationships and social structures be detected amidst monological posts?
The Content Is People. Long Live the Content!
Social media are the new means of production. We are no longer in the information age, but are now in the age of communication. And in this age, the attention economy may explain the disruptive impact of social media on established industries; industries, not coincidentally, built around the production and distribution of information — as well as control over its consumption.
Content is king. The content of the real-time Web is people. And yet the socialized Web is much more than a Web of, by and for the people. The social world is not flat, open and transparent. It has distinctions, boundaries, biases and preferences. It is also about who chooses, what is chosen, who is chosen, who replies and why.
Social Value Add
"People" content produces social information, and it is relevant because it reflects the social preferences, tastes and interests of individuals, groups and communities. Communication is how we produce this information; attention is how we consume it.
Real-time Web analytics and metrics already understand this. Influencer metrics count who chooses whom as well as what. Influence is contingent on the ongoing attention paid by an audience. It is not a quality owned or possessed by the influencer. It's a relation between influencer and an "audience" willing to pay attention and help pass it forward. This is the medium's power. That power is as much in social relations as it is in information and content.
Understanding what interests a user, by means of their contributions and activities but also by means of their relationships and social interactions, is at the heart of the value that the real-time social Web holds for brands and businesses (as well as the value that the user adds to their reputation and visibility). Attention spent in communicating reproduces brand value by redistributing it socially (and free of charge).
The real-time Web is built on uncoupled posts. But many online social interactions are at least loosely if not densely coupled. This coupling restores some degree of social context (social information). It may reveal social relationships (relational information). The speed, reach and redistribution of tweets and updates expose social organization (attention information). And when observed and analyzed over time, changes in this activity can reveal persistent interests and relationships, as well as those that are changing (historical trends and predictive information).
Social contexts can be partially reconstructed out of other communication forms: chains, loops and circuits, clusters, clumps (and more). Satellite "conversations" fashioned from re-aggregated comments (see PubSubHubbub, Dave Winer's RSSCloud and the new salmon protocol) will spark innovation in contextual analyses.
But all the social analytics in the world won't work unless the architectural and data models can capture communication. If tools and applications can increasingly provide ways to communicate in ways that also expose social context, and if data-mining efforts are enhanced with models of social action, then the world of real-time social interaction will surface immensely valuable information indeed — at which point we may be able to say that in the midst of all this information, we are also better informed.