The purpose of social media is to augment your real life: connect with people, discover new links and resources through them and potentially discuss and collaborate on ideas. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the Internet is just people connected by wires, uplinks, frequencies and protocols. They aren’t so much behind terminals any more, but connected through all kinds of devices that are increasingly pervasive wherever we are: laptops, netbooks, cellphones, portable media devices, GPS boxes and more. Going online used to be a destination in itself; these days, for many of us, it’s something that happens without us thinking about it. Phones in particular are designed for connecting as much as conversing.
Software is being dragged kicking and screaming into this multi-platform reality. In some areas, the feature bloated, platform-locked ways of old are still very much in force; oddly, these tend to be in the enterprise sector, where mobile collaboration could be hugely beneficial. In any given company on any given day, there are likely to be people at their desks, working from home, on their way to a client meeting, attending a conference, and so on. Being able to keep in touch and share information in these situations is important. But try using Sharepoint from your Blackberry, I dare you. Even Basecamp has trouble with this, although I wouldn’t accuse it of feature bloat.
Google, on the other hand, is great at this. All of their major products have versions that can be easily read on each of the types of device I listed above, and are key examples of how web software can work brilliantly away from your desk. They also make them accessible to enterprise customers. More manufacturers will follow suit, particularly given the popularity of the iPhone and the more useful browser in the new Blackberry models. The popularity of services like Twitter, which arguably works better on a mobile, can only help.
We’re working on a service called Teamwire that will be as useful for companies and organisations out in the field as at their desks. (The idea grew out of an idea for Curverider itself, which is often a very distributed team.) There will be others; already, services like Yammer are edging in the right direction.
In all cases, it’s got to be about simplicity from the user’s perspective (always the most important), and standards compliance from a technical standpoint. You can’t navigate endless menus and interstitial screens if you’re on the move; you have to convey information or view a resource in seconds. Similarly, the bling that looks awesome in Safari might not look amazing in Opera Mini on my Nokia. That economy of use translates very well to efficiency within an office, too: the simpler software is, the shallower its learning curve and the more time you can spend actually doing your job. It’s not great news for IT departments, which will be gnashing their teeth up and down the land, but it’s great for people who want to feel the benefits of software without the technical pain.