At the center of the Social Web and the shared activities that define it are the online personas of participants: More than with prior anonymous discussion boards or cloaked personas, it’s an actual identity that is of value in a business context, since it is generally the motivation of an individual to be noticed as such that drives social participation in the first place.
Though detailed personal information is (still) generally not available except to trusted friends or colleagues, the use of a real name or photo in one’s social profile is becoming common. Along with any optionally provided information, the result is a basis for understanding who it is that is actually participating.
The profile is therefore the starting point of social interaction, because without it the interaction that would otherwise occur is purely transactional, between the participant and the online application or another unknown party. The existence of a profile or equivalent is, in this sense, what differentiates social platforms and applications from (online) interactive applications.
In an interactive application consider a typical website the interaction is between the application and the user: navigate to a help file, download a PDF, or place an item in a shopping cart. In each of these, the primary activity occurs between a user and an application designed to facilitate a specific task. Identity beyond basic security or commerce validation requirements in this context is of relatively little importance. Because the individual participant is steering the entire process, and because this is typically a task-oriented transaction, the identity of the participant matters little beyond the requirements of the task at hand
The Profile as a Social Connector
Taken together, the significance of the profile is its central role in establishing who is participating. When people have that basic information, they will more readily enter into functional relationships and share or transfer useful knowledge. This is, of course, the primary objective in building a social business or supporting the application. By connecting the organization with its stakeholders—whether a business and its customers or a nonprofi t and its member’s social profiles form the basis for an accountable, productive relationship.
A Practical Example of Profiles
In my experience working with Atlanta-based Premiere Global (PGi) on the implementation of a community, the role of the social profile in activating and sustaining the community is particularly instructive as regards the role of the profile in a community application. This particular project—a developer’s community built around PGi’s communications API was intended to bring independent developers and internal PGi experts together in a collaborative venue that would spur the development of new and innovative communications applications.
The Profile and the Social Graph
The Social Graph”, will provide an in-depth treatment. For now, understand that the social graph includes the set of profiles that describe the Social Business Ecosystemâ members of a social network and the interactions, activities, and relationships that connect specific profiles on the Social Web. In perhaps the simplest view, the social graph defines the way in which one profile is connected to another, through a friendship relationship perhaps. Because the profile itself is tied to a person however vaguely that profile may have been defined there is a sense of accountability and belonging that translates into shared responsibility between those so connected