April 26, 2004
Real Social Software

In the blogosphere these days there's lots of chatter about social software. No disrespect to the big thinkers in the area, but IMHO, it's mainly recycling the same thoughts on weblogs, search engines and linking. Plenty of good stuff to think about, but there's a lot of navel gazing going on as well.

Well, I tell you, I've found some real social software that achieves some elusive goals that other forms simply don't do well.

The software is called Xfire. At first glance, Xfire appears to be a simple instant messaging program, but it is much more than that. Xfire is focused on people that play video games and is all about allowing gamers to meet up in-game and make new gaming friends.

Let's take a look.

Here you see a typical IM screen, but notice that I can see that Travis is playing Battlefield Vietnam, a first person shooter video game. The Xfire client montiors the computer and keeps track of what Travis is doing. This is an important point, and we'll come back to it later.

Here's where things get good. I expand out the info on Travis and I can see exactly what server he's on. Xfire has grabbed this info on his computer and fed it to me, his friend. All I have to do to join in in the game is hit the Join button. Xfire launches the game on my computer and automagically feeds the server info from Travis computer into mine and within a few seconds...

I'm with Travis in the game.

To gamers, this is revolutionary. In the past, we had to coordinate in voice chat, IRC, message boards to meet up in the game. The desks of serious gamers are often cluttered with scraps of paper with IP addresses of which the only purpose is to join the right server.

With Xfire, a clan or guild member only needs to go online and join his or her friends with literally the click of a button.

But it doesn't stop there. Even if my friends are offline, I can see what Friends of my Friends are doing. My god, it's like FOAF, but actually useful! This is an actual demonstration of where personal linkages can be of direct benefit to an individual.

Xfire also tracks gameplay to create profile of what games I have been playing so others can see what kind of gamer I am. If a friend of a friend see's me online and checks out my profiel that can see if we play similar games and to what degree. Rather than me entering what my gaming interests are, Xfire tracks it automatically.

Now, if you are not a gamer, you may be thinking, "Big effing deal, I'm not a gamer." Ah, but here's where the beauty of Xfire is truly found.

In other social software, the software does what the user tells it to do and usually creates a profile about what a person says about themself. Xfire takes this to the next level. It creates a profile about a user actually does, and allows others to see it.

Imagine if you will, running a piece of software that watched what you did online. It could tell where you spent your time online and what you were connected to currently. If you were in an IRC channel, it could point your friends to the IRC channel. If you were posting a lot on a specific message board or wiki, it could tell your friends that's what you'd been up to recently.

It's reasonable to concieve of software could track where you had commented on blogs and keep a record for you or let others see you comments on other blogs. Matt Haughey's Posted Elsewhere could be automated rather than hand crafted.

Yes, there's privacy and control issues. Sure, I don't want people knowing how much time I spend at porn sites either. But those are all solvable problems. The Orku-tribe-sters have been examing those issues ad naseum.

The possibilities go on and on if you start thinking about having an intelligent agent that keeps track of your net wanderings. Xfire is the first of a new breed of social software. A breed where the burden of work is removed from human and placed in the hands of the software, allowing the human to focus on the fun and interesting things.

So there you have it, real social software in the form of automated agents. It's the future boys & girls and it's going to kick ass.

Posted by michael at April 26, 2004 11:05 PM