The SXSW sessions I attended yesterday presented an undercurrent of discussion around evolving issues of privacy and identity. Today's sessions continued and grew on that theme, but focused more on the broad overarching potential of social media. In a session called Activity Strea.ms Chris Messina presented a clear and well thought out presentation that talked to social media's potential by placing it within the context of activity theory. The basic idea of activity theory, as far as I could tell, was that individuals act within the context of a community and communities interact with and affect individuals. If we see social media as the actions of individuals within a Web community then we are at the cusp of an opportunity to view the growth and definition of a whole new set of interactions. If we believe that Social Media will continue to grow then we will need a new structure and framework to understand it. A structure that cannot be defined within the classic computer model of folders and documents.
Messina is working with a group to help create this structure within what they call Activity Strea.ms, which will allow for much more flexible and intuitive control and distribution of information. Considering the amount of data and information that individuals are producing, and how much it will grow in the future, activity streams may be a way to harness this data into communication that benefits and empowers individuals and communities. The hardest trick in all of this is understanding how "game" based Social Media applications such as FourSquare and GoWalla are actually the first halting steps in developing rules and structure for how individuals interact within these communities.
In a return to the the recurring theme of the conference, Danah Boyd, one of the foremost authorities on social media and youth discussed the role of privacy and publicity in social media. This presentation made it clear that while social media may have immense potential within within new and growing interactive communities, the issues of privacy will need to be solved before we can move forward. This issue is one that developers, entrepreneurs and marketers will have to continue to be aware of and one that may change and morph as time goes on.