About eight years ago my friend Robert Reich and I spent an afternoon at his house brainstorming about ideas for me.dium (a company he founded and I worked at). Me.dium turned into OneRiot and was sold to Walmart Labs. The drawing above, and the description below is what we came up with.
There are three pieces to "social" in the consumer space. Any "application" or "service" that succeeds in adoption, active users, and longevity, strikes an powerful chord between these three things. The yin-yang diagram is an attempt to illustrate the relationship between the concepts. Like the Chinese philosophy itself, perfect balance between these notions is a powerful force.
Humans want connection with other humans. Once you're a couple of levels up from the bottom of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, it's required for existence. It's base. We all want to feel to connected to others, whether In-Real-Life, or "online." Whether one other person, or hundreds of so-called "friends." It gives us reason. It gives us purpose. It gives us a place to "be." Ultimately, it gives us love.
We have an innate need to always be discovering things in life. Some of us get lazy of course, but we ultimately find a way (again, In-Real-Life, or "online") to discover. Be it staying abreast of current political events, or learning what music our friends are listening to. We want to be discovering things all the time. How often is our friend checking messages? How often is our child posting videos to YouTube? What images is my sibling posting while on vacation? We want to know! What does my favorite media outlet consider "news" right now?
Self Expression ("Ego")
This one's always fun of course. Some of us publish manufactured perfect lives online. Some of us express the simplest things in the world ("I'm drinking a coffee right now."). Others write blog posts about their cancer diagnosis. One of the most expressive statements someone can make today is to not engage with social media at all. Their absence from this "online" world is a very strong statement in and of itself. The stories we "share" or "reblog" are expressions as well of course.
We all engage with luddites from time to time and some of them condemn "social media" as a plague on humanity. Of course it can get in the way of priceless face to face human interaction, but, if you hold this perspective, consider mapping this diagram to our "real" lives. I think it's a mirror image of what makes us tick. Whether you apply it to "online" lives, or "real life," doesn't matter.
Applications have all sorts of spins on these concepts. Some push Discovery to the fore, while others are all about Connectedness. Discovery may be the main ingredient in another. Regardless, social applications we fall in love with, and use like a drug, provide some powerful concoction of this trifecta.
Consider your favorite "social" app in this light. I think you'll find some neat stuff.