As part of his “5 Myths of Social Software”, Jon Mell dispels a myth that one needs “lots of people for social tools to be a success.” He points to this famous diagram by Chris Rasmussen and his own positive personal experience at a three person startup to conclude that “placing social tools in the context of their existing workflows (like email) and targeting identified business problems (even if they initially involve small groups) is far more successful than trying to get large numbers of young people using Facebook-like tools for the sake of it.”
This is a very critical point, especially since “Network Effect” is often erroneously invoked to suggest that a large social network, ipsofacto, is very critical for its success. But at the same time, social tools should facilitate innovators and early adopters to evangelize to the rest of the organization. Many tools do not allow for this. Take the case of Google Wave. In my opinion it is a great social software offering many features and capabilities. But my colleagues couldn’t be part of a single wave without committing to it fully. They can not wade into it – they have to fully submerge. It would have been nice if Wave allowed me to invite a colleague into a wave and experience it. To illustrate this point further consider the case where the colleague is an employee of a partner company. Shouldn’t she be able to use the social software as it pertains to the project at hand. Federation between companies is not the answer. What if that company has not deployed social software? What if they are using a different version?
So the bottom line is social software must allow for “guests” before they become full fledged users. Of course for this to happen, the software must allow for browser based access and allow third party authentication tools like OpenID/OAuth.