The Voice of IP

Social Sharing 2.0: The Rise of Real-Time Communications

By Jonathan Rosenberg, Chief Technology Strategist, Skype

I'm not talking about ads. Instead, I'm referring to the social sharing icons from Facebook (News - Alert), Twitter, Digg and countless other social networking sites. When you click on them, the object of your attention is posted to your wall, tweeted, or digged for your entire social circle to see.

The general concept of social sharing is not new to the Web. Even before there was a Web, or even the Internet, people were communicating with friends and colleagues and sharing content through bulletin board systems. With the arrival of the Internet, Internet relay chat took center stage. Once we had the Web, message boards and forums quickly proliferated. Modern social sharing is undoubtedly easier to use and more valuable than the platforms that preceded them. However, social sharing is still in its infancy, and much more lies ahead.

The primary limitation of today's form of social sharing is that it fundamentally remains a broadcast medium. When I post an article to my Facebook wall, I know very little about what will happen next. I don't know who will see it, when they will see it, or even if they will look at it. My list of Facebook friends is a mix of old colleagues, friends, neighbors, relatives and acquaintances. Who among them will read my latest find? In the past, I have posted work related articles to my wall, and the only comment I received in response to it came from my mom. Clearly, this was not what I had intended when I posted the article.

Ultimately, what's missing from today's social sharing is emotion. True social interaction is all about emotion - interacting with people and gaining new shared experiences through that interaction. Without emotion and true social interaction, modern social interaction on the Internet is missing the three I's - involvement, interaction and investment.

Involvement refers to how much time I spend on a Web site. When I'm engaged in social interaction with friends, I spend time. The better the relationship, the more time I'll spend with them. One would expect that social interaction around a Web site would also increase the amount of time I would spend there, but today, it doesn't. Sharing something to Facebook or Twitter is really easy; with a single click, the item is posted and users don't need to spend any more time on the site. That seems wrong though. Shouldn't "social" encourage me to spend a lot more time there?

Interaction refers to the ways in which people interact with each other around a shared experience. When it is one they enjoy, they seek to repeat the experience or recommend it to others. If I go out to the movies with friends and enjoy the film, I'm going to be more likely to go to the movies again with those same friends. I've created a linkage between an emotion (having fun) and an experience (going to the movies), which makes me want to repeat it. When applied to the Web, the same should be true. Making a site truly social should help create an emotional bond with that site, making it more likely that I'll return. Today's social sharing doesn't necessarily do this. Finally, investment refers to the tendency of people to follow through on something when it's done in a group. When a group of friends shop together, they are more likely to buy than when they shop alone. This is because they have an investment in the shopping experience, created by the time spent with their friends. This aspect of social interaction is also absent in today's social sharing technologies.

It should come as no surprise that what's missing from the social Web is real-time communications. By combining a Web application with real-time voice and video communications, we can create true shared experiences around Web content that can deliver on involvement, interaction and investment.

This is best illustrated by an example. Consider two friends, Alice and Jane, who have not seen each other in a year, and have talked for a long time about getting together for a weekend in Manhattan. Alice is browsing the Web, and visits the site of the Hilton in Times Square. This reminds her of Alice. Right there, on the Hilton Web page, is a call to action that is meaningful to Alice - "Book a Manhattan trip with a friend!" When Alice clicks this button, it brings up her contact list, and Jane is listed right at the top. One more click and Jane receives a call on her computer telling her that Alice is calling from the Hilton Web site and wants to book a trip with her. Jane is delighted to see this and answers the call. Her Web browser jumps to the Hilton site. Alice and Jane see and hear each other through a voice and video call that is natively integrated into the Web site. Alice clicks on the Deluxe Suite, and Jane's browser jumps to the same view. "Wow," says Alice. "This room is beautiful - let's do this already!" Jane agrees and Alice clicks "Buy."

This example shows how real-time communications, when integrated into something as seemingly mundane as a hotel Web site, can drive emotion, and through it create involvement, interaction and investment. Everyone wins. This is the future - the rise of social sharing - and it is a future that is just on the horizon.