Social interfaces, behaviour and tools

Joel on Software has a great usability article on the difference between designing social software interfaces versus user interface design. This is on my mind a lot right now as what my potential employer is asking me to, while fixing their corporate backend, is build software to power their society.

Whereas the goal of user interface design is to help the user succeed, the goal of social interface design is to help the society succeed, even if it means one user has to fail.

Often, even useful software never gets used, because it does not align with the way people want to work together. Getting the social interfaces right is critical. Creating belonging is key. We’re really building communities with social software .

I guess this is what I’m struggling with. Seen too many tools constrain users to the point they don’t use them. Blogging seems like a good start but it’s not enough as I need a community. I can also see a wiki. But on top of that, it needs to militate grassroots action and knowledge passing as well as allowing the best ideas to be communicated and allow users the ability of social discovery in self-identifying and self-creating few:few and many:many subcommunities. Oh yeah, and filter info effectively so that people don’t miss the trees for the forest.

Been looking at the amazing Dean campaign experience as well as tools it spawned. CivicSpace, is “a grassroots organizing platform that empowers collective action inside communities and cohesively connects remote groups of supporters.”

But really this problem deals more with cultural and anthropological issues than computers. I need a behavioural approach rather than just vetting software. In a sense, I think the key is conversations as knowledge, so commenting and interaction are key, but it’s enough. There is also the part of me that thinks perhaps simple communications tools to allow people to find and connect and then to tell and listen to stories would be the key. Communications as community rather than any specific tool. Also training in techniques to find and connect and tell.

Anyone else got suggestions on appropriate tools I should also be looking at? Or books or interesting articles? Anthropological or software related? (and please comment rather than email so everyone can benefit).