Connect to Enjoy, Benefit from Social Apps

Want your social applications to make your work life rock? It’s all about connectedness. Applications such as LinkedIn, Twitter and the new kid on the block, Tangler, all rely on strong connectedness in providing benefits to you.

LinkedIn can be incredible as a way to connect with colleagues and their extended professional network and to get answers to business-related questions. You could connect with a potential client, or employee, or experts and mentors, or a future employer. But without a critical mass of connections, LinkedIn is next to useless. You end up with a small or non-existent 3rd-level network – a web of contacts that’s barely a single thread.

Twitter offers an incredibly fun way to keep continuous partial attention on your contacts. It’s a voyeuristic, fast-paced view of what your mates are up to and into. Better yet, if you choose to follow some of the gurus, you can pick up stories and links well before they hit the blogosphere. But only a few contacts, it’s plain boring. The “right” number is probably around 10 contacts across friends, industry experts, news makers and breakers before your stream becomes engaging.

Tangler is an interesting mashup of traditional forums and IM-style chat that’s recently gone public beta. You build connections in two ways – Contacts and Groups. Contacts are the people you know and communicate with. Groups are exactly that – subject-focused groups of conversation topics. With Tangler, the same connectedness phenomenon occurs. When you have too few Contacts or Groups, it loses its appeal. You either have nobody to talk to, or nothing to talk about.

This critical mass of connectedness is common across all social applications. It doesn’t matter whether it’s del.icio.us or Flickr or Upcoming or Last.FM or AllConsuming or even something as Web 1.0 as Google Groups.

The critical mass of connectedness is closely related to Malcolm Gladwell’s notion of the tipping point. As the number of users and their activity grows, social applications get better, often exponentially so. Ideally the early users of a social application are Gladwell’s “connectors”, and they “yawn” a lot. These people drive uptake and encourage others to join in, increasing connectedness. Soon, the volume of users and the connections between them reaches a point where real value is offered.

If you’re using social applications but not getting value, you’ve got some choices:

  • take the easy way out and give up
  • become a connector and bring in users
  • build your connectedness by actively joining in.

Don’t forget, a critical mass of connectedness is the driving force behind getting value from social applications.

Guest contributor Stephen Collins is a management consultant, information architect and user-centered design specialist from Canberra, Australia.