The social imperative

Blogs, wikis, and social tagging have shown us that group intelligence, amplified by nothing more than linking and search, can manage flows of information more effectively than most of us would have dared to dream.

WinFS at first glance seems antithetical to this approach. It prescribes a formal taxonomy of data types. That taxonomy can be extended but only by WinFS-savvy developers, and only in WinFS-aware applications.
Beyond the handful of standard types, though, I'm not sure where all those extensions are going to come from. Developers have always tried, and so far always failed, to define reusable objects that meet the needs of knowledge workers in the real world. Meanwhile, in the era of social computing, we're learning to watch for the patterns that emerge as people interact in information-rich contexts, and then pave those cow paths.
I hope Microsoft will come to see WinFS not only as a platform for developers, but also as an environment in which users can do simple things that yield powerful social effects. [Full story at]

This column intersects serendipitously with several recent blog items and threads. Patrick Logan takes note of the fact that across the network, to a non-WinFS client, WinFS emulates a filesystem. He calls this kind of degradation "retro":

The bottom line for me is: whatever WinFS *is*, well, it should be *that* for the network. WinFS should not be something for me if it happens to be running on my specific box, something else for you if it happens to be running on some other specific box. [Making it stick: A File System For (or To) the Rest of Us]

Robert Scoble sounds the alarm in Redmond:

Bill and Steve? Where are you? When are we going to get seriously into social software? [Yahoo, now a social software powerhouse]

Richard Schwartz suggests that Ray Ozzie is on the case:

With each passing week, I find more reason to believe that Ray Ozzie's role at Microsoft must have a lot to do with creating a coherent vision that leverages WinFS and XML to bring traditional collaboration and social collaboration together. [Power of the Schwartz: WinFS and Social Computing]
Elsewhere Richard calls WinFS "the logical successor to the NSF file, the Groove data store, and every other non-relational store that anyone has built as the foundation for a collaboration platform."

That's probably true. But we need to understand that blogs, wikis, and social tagging have succeeded not because they've engineered data structures and access patterns to the nth degree, but because they provide an environment in which people, doing what they are naturally inclined to do, co-create the data structures and access patterns. Turbocharging that process of co-creation, on all platforms and for differing personalities, isn't only -- and perhaps isn't even primarily -- a database engineering challenge.

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