Social Object

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= Social Object: the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.” (Hugh McLeod)


Adrian Chan:

"The concept of social objects is pretty widely used in social interaction design, but we’re missing a solid definition of what social objects are. Or, whether they really even exist.

The most common use of the term “social object” refers to shared online resources around which interactions develop and coalesce. Examples could include gifts on Facebook, videos, or what have you. The object sort of serves as a shared object, a focus of attention, an actual digital object, and so on. And the object plays a role in governing or informing interactions; we know what objects mean and what to do with them (give them, comment on them, play them, etc.)" (


JP Rangaswami:

" First, some principles:

  • An object becomes social only when it is shared; it is the sharing that makes the object social, not the object per se.
  • A social object creates value not for itself but for the community in which it is shared.
  • The process by which value is created is by the community interacting with the object, leaving comments, classifications, tags, notes, notations, corrections, observations, links, questions and even answers.
  • If a social object falls in a forest and there’s no one to record and comment on its passage, it doesn’t make a sound.
  • Social objects get cocooned in metadata, the who-what-when-how-much that describes frequency of access, the population doing the accessing, number of edits, when and how carried out and by whom, relative popularity, links, tags and so on.
  • By inspecting the metadata we learn about ourselves and about the organisation(s)"



Adrian Chan about the fuzziness of the definition:

"But the definition of social object is a bit too fuzzy for me, and for a couple reasons.

Firstly, as designers, the object plays into our interest in having an object language — things to design and design for. We are biased to think in terms of objects; objects belong to the world of interface design. So there is a possibility that where there is actually other stuff going on, we focus on the object out of our own interest. (By analogy, consider the anthropologist who focuses her attention on these social objects: a ceremonial mask, money, a wedding ring, a football. How much of the rituals, pastimes, social and cultural practices belong to the object and are explained by object properties? Not much….)

Secondly, objects are easily confused with their properties, attributes, qualities, uses, and so on. This is just how language works. We name a thing and give it attributes, and having done so we have a stable concept. Plato’s ideal chair, vs all real chairs. Concepts then substitute for the real thing. It’s possible that we’re actually talking about the concept of social objects, and not social objects as used.

Which is a more accurate description of gifting on Facebook: the relationship between two friends and the practice of giving gifts on birthdays, or the graphic of the beer mug? The more accurate description of user interaction would be that which explains the practice of gift giving, the symbolic act of presenting a gift, the Facebook tradition of recognizing birthdays, and the social space in which gifts are seen by others such that birthdays create a cause for a stretch of social interaction.

We know that social objects are a shared cultural resource — their meanings are culturally context-specific. We know that many social practices involve social objects. We know that in the digital domain, social objects are unique in that there is no original object but many copies; that an object can appear in many places at once." (

Social Objects in the Enterprise

JP Rangaswami:

"We have to start thinking about social objects in the enterprise as having two primary purposes: to collect patterns, via the metadata generated around the social object; and to collect pattern recognisers, via the communities built around the social object.

Chris Locke, when I first met him over a decade ago, spent time explaining to me the importance of “organic gardening”, a catchall for the role played by interests other than work in building community amongst the people at work. What he said resonated with me, particularly with what I’d learnt from phenomena like the WELL.

People who congregate electronically around digital social objects form relationships with each other as a result of that congregation; there are birds-of-a-feather-like effects, the bringing together of people with similar interests, though not necessarily similar views on those interests.

These people who are brought together tend to avoid the herd-instinct problem primarily because of this, the tendency to congregate around interests rather than views on the interests. Politics rather than the red-or-blue of party politics. Football rather than the red-or-blue of Manchester or Liverpool. Religion rather than the red-or-blue of Catholic or Protestant. Technology rather than the red-or-blue of Google or Microsoft.

Because they come together with a commonality of interest but a diversity of views, the likelihood of Linus’s Law increases: Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow. So when such people collaborate, the quality of collaboration tends to be high.

Then, when you bring in the Clay Shirky concept of “cognitive surplus”, the potential for radical change in the enterprise emerges. People working together to correct the raw data and information bases that underpin the technical infrastructure of the firm, the extended enterprise, the market, the economy.

Social objects will also themselves become repositories of metadata related to relationships and information flows and collaborative activity, increasing the amount of information available about the actors and activities, and thereby reducing the likelihood of friction and tension between collaborators a la Gregory Benford’s Law : passion is inversely proportional to the amount of real information available." (

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