We continually spent more time online – now an average of 13 hours per week. Facebook connectivity increases within new demographics, and the voice of oppressed groups is strengthened online. The platform for social and real-time web is the communities that place the individual in the centre, with tools that helps us construct the story of our ideal self-image.

The range of social services we use including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. covers different needs, but the similarity is that they fulfil our need for curiosity, recognition and profiling. The success of the individual is measured quantitative in terms of the number of friends, followers or connections we gain. By focusing on the ego in a social context, makes our behaviour and perception rather predictable. By keeping us self-centered, has web 2 and social media thereby limited us rather than liberated us as individuals?

Participatory motivation
Linking community behaviour with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, shows a coverage of our need for social belonging and recognition. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can also reflect the evolvement of the Internet, from focus on basic infrastructure and security to the services we use today that support our need for social belonging and esteem. This thesis indicates, that the future of web will move towards supporting our need for self-actualization. According to Maslow our need for self-actualization will rise when the previous needs are met, and therefore not attract us all. So we will probably continue to use services that stimulates us socially, fortifies our ego and most of all – just entertains.


The end of web 2
But as with other trends, we might experience a backlash, where the measurement goes from quantitative in relation to the number of friends, towards qualitative in terms of individual impact and influence in a group with value, meaning and actual change as key indicators. First movers on the web will probably soon sort out friends, contacts and followers, that gave them status during the social web era, and instead move towards the era of “value web” where a friend is chosen on the basis of value. To be a part of these value groups, you will either provide impact, or be exclusively chosen, bringing status to the given social hierarchy.

What do we really achieve from our numerous online hours – do we in fact strengthen our relationships on Facebook, or is it rather entertainment and curiosity that leads us to spend time observing “what is on the mind” of the 10% of users that actually participate.

When Twitter emphasises the situation in Iran after the June 2009 election, whereafter to be surpassed by Michael Jackson’s death, how great impact has our participation actually had? As Queen Rania expressed at LeWeb:

“Can the real time web bring real world change?”


There are not many services available today that support self-actualization, altruism, and other elements that moves focus from the ego towards value in and to a group. And will motivational factors supported by the successful communities of today, still be necessary on the value orientated communities of tomorrow? Does the multitude truly want to act for a good purpose, if they are not rewarded with recognition and profiling? One thing is to show that you support a good cause on Facebook – which also supports our perfect online image, another thing is to actually spent the necessary time to act and change.

Social web – limits rather than liberates
Maslow´s hierarchy of needs is distinguished by its visual simplicity, but there are other interesting thoughts on what motivates us to act. Spinoza´s philosophy is that everything is determined by cause and effect, so even if we believe as individuals that we act based on our free will, we are in fact externally influenced including socially.

Maslow also considers a self-actualized person as free in relation to social influence, which enables us to make decisions based on our beliefs and values, rather than social norms and rules. Taoism and Zen Buddhism has a similar view – man is truly liberated when freed from worldly possessions, social pressure and power, thereby decisions are no longer made on the basis of external authority. Spinoza´s definition is a virtuous free person who pursues goals that benefits all, sharing knowledge and makes other virtuous, free and good, the focus is not on the ego but on the surrounding world.

As long as the web of today supports egocentrism and restrains us in a social context, do we then loose the opportunity of self-actualization, self-development and ethics, thus other underlying values?

From social to value web
If only some of our countless online hours were spent on altruism, we might ultimately get more sustainable gratification than Facebook and similar services are able to give us today.

My personal hope is that services and users in the future stimulates value, meaning and altruism in a social and global context. Research indicates that altruism affects the same area of the brain as sex. If altruism is so closely related to this driving force, why aren´t more people doing it? Are we able to influence altruism by how we design our web services, in order to motivate people to do something for others with ultimate satisfaction as reward?

But is it not okay to spend our time on social trivialities and entertainment, without necessarily being self-developed or changing the world, but where the objective is just to relax. The answer must depend on the individuals needs, but hopefully the future communities will make it easier for individuals to make a difference.

What´s in it for me?
The views above are based on the believe that people desire more meaning and value, but in a busy daily life it can be difficult to see how we can actually contribute. If we look at community behaviour, we are more inclined to contribute if we are rewarded, whether we gain recognition or profiling. The interesting aspect is how to motivate individuals, in a direction that gives a more prolonged and/or enhanced satisfaction. So, from quantitatively measurement by the number of friends, the future services will rather measure the impact of the individual, whether it is in a group, in society, or globally. If this proves to be the trend for the future, we may get closer to – real time web bringing real world change.

Danish version

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  • Kim Bach

    It sure leads to retweets ;-)

    For me spending more time online, has made me spend more time offline (eg. not watching TV).

    It’s amazing how many I now call friends, that I didn’t even know 4 years ago, when I reentered the online world, I think that is a rare pattern for people my age (47), that you make new friends, most of which are 10-15 years younger than yourself.

    Maslow is right, and we really want to be famous/recognised.

    But, I love your take on altruism, we do see a lot of potiential for that in the “loud” bubbles on twitter in Denmark, and I think that now that we’ve found each other, we will actually go on to change the world!


  • Flemming Funch

    One gets what one measures, to a large degree. Quality is of course harder to measure than quantity, but in no way impossible.

    Doing something purely out of altruism or for the sake of self-realization might possibly be “better” than doing it for some kind of credit. But I think we’d go far simply by making quality as visible as quantity, or more visible. Make sure that people who do good things get some visible brownie points, or at least that the things they do are very visible. And make sure that people who amass worthless followers get some minus quality points, or at least that the result of that action gets but little visibility.

    Lots of people contribute to open source projects, to wikipedia, to support forums, etc. Maybe out of a kind of altruism, even if most probably wouldn’t identify themselves as altruists. Maybe to scratch their own itch, but they also go out of their way to share it. Maybe for recognition, but they often only get little visible recognition. Maybe just to know they’re doing something valuable, something that’s needed, something that makes the world a slightly better place.

    One way or another, yes, I think it is moving towards the top of Maslow’s pyramid. And, yes, more services ought to deal with that more intelligently.

    • natasha

      “Karma” rating could visualize a persons contribution, value and ethics, rated by other users. Jacob actually introduced but never implemented this during his Eksperten days, to break with the problem that users with a lot of points – aren´t necessary delivering most value to a community.

  • Flemming Funch

    It isn’t easy getting it right. I’ve implemented some karma point systems in online communities that ended up not working, as they were promoting the “wrong” kinds of behaviors. Some of the people who ended up at the top of the list were there because they automatically gave everybody else lots of high ratings, without any regard to the actual quality of their interactions.

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