7 Building Blocks Of The Social Web

I wanted to talk a little today about a wonderful post which was written on nform.ca by the brilliant information architect Gene Smith. Gene runs the atomiq.org blog which is a regular favorite of mine and this was a brilliant article which caught my eye. The post was titled 7 building blocks of the social web and what Gene has done in the piece is to bring together the work of various others who have a passion for the social web and its inner workings, namely Matt Webb and Stewart Butterfield.

For me this is an incredibly valuable breakdown of what is important when it comes to social and I want to go a step further today and just dig into a little more detail. Let’s take a look at the 7 blocks and then get into their importance and how to implement them. 

  • Identity – a way of uniquely identifying people in the system
  • Presence – a way of knowing who is online, available or otherwise nearby
  • Relationships – a way of describing how two users in the system are related (e.g. in Flickr, people can be contacts, friends of family)
  • Conversations – a way of talking to other people through the system
  • Groups – a way of forming communities of interest
  • Reputation – a way of knowing the status of other people in the system (who’s a good citizen? who can be trusted?)
  • Sharing – a way of sharing things that are meaningful to participants (like photos or videos)


Something which I really love about the work that Gene has done on this is that is serves as a reminder of what we should all know already, that society and social media networks are one in same. This may sound like an easy assumption to make but something very strange happens when business start to approach people on social media, they treat people out there differently to how they would treat someone in the street in terms of advertising technique. There is a small concession to be made here for keyboard warriors and trolls, who think that they can say or do things differently to how they would in ‘real life’ but beyond this people act and shop the same way as they would in any other situation. Look at that list of qualities behaves and characteristics, that hasn’t changed in 50 years, regardless of where society spends their time. 


When we are looking to tackle social media as a business it is always vital to remember the very basics and what Gene has put together is a list which every business should have posted to their wall when they are coming up with a social media strategy. If you are able to focus on these 7 important building blocks you are going to be able to gain more trust and loyalty and ultimately better traction for whatever you do on social media.