Marti Hearst gave an interesting talk at JHU on Social Media in which she described some important dimensions of through which we can understand the variety of phenomena that are tagged with that label. She examined expertise, the degree to which data are shared (synchronized!) among the people engaged in some activity, and the degree to which participants are working toward an explicitly-shared goal (even if they approach it different personal motivation).
Her examples included KittenWar, Mechanical Turk, Idea Markets, iPhone apps, and Peer2Patent, among many others. She only mentioned collaborative search in passing at the very end, but there are similarities in her world view to those we described for search. We talk about synchronizing data, and expicit vs. implicit collaboration. We also talk about the technical dimension of depth of mediation, which she does not address directly. Although our model doesn’t incorporate expertise directly, expertise appears through different roles that are supported through system interfaces.
The similarities are not surprising in some sense, because both reflect group behavior. But it is good to see the convergence of ideas: having a common language with which to discuss phenomena is an important step toward achieving a more detailed shared understanding.