Saturday, March 15, 2008


Last September, the AIA jumped on the Web 2.0 bandwagon, a trend in World Wide Web technology that has led to a proliferation of web-based communities such as wikis, blogs, and other social networking sites, which aim to facilitate collaboration and sharing among users. The name of the Institute’s new online community is Soloso. I recently checked Soloso out to see if it has what it takes to become a premiere resource for information about architecture and the profession as the AIA hopes it will or if it is fated to be seen as a misstep along a trail already being blazed successfully by other online ventures.

The prospect of connecting with other AIA members as part of an online community is appealing. Such a community would build upon shared affiliations, interests, experience and education. The expectation is that Soloso will be a highly used research tool and a centralized knowledge and content acquisition experience, hosting content provided by members, AIA staff, and third party providers. The Institute’s vision is that members will clamor to contribute their own content to Soloso in the form of articles, projects, and images as well as reviews, profile pages, and feedback.

I set up my profile in Soloso, and promptly transferred some of my content from this blog to my Soloso page. I listed my interests, affiliations, education, and experience to fill out my profile, which is the means by which it is possible to connect with other members whose profile attributes might overlap with mine. You navigate these connections using a little site "map:"

For example, by clicking on "Education" I can find other members who also attended the University of Oregon:

This is kind of cool, but the “gee whiz” factor of this feature is sure to fade, especially when you realize that if Soloso becomes as widely used as the Institute envisions, the number of your “connections” would render this little tool useless. It’s already difficult for me to single out any one of my fellow members from the Committee on Design Knowledge Community:

The real problem with Soloso is that it is an internal social network (ISN), which is a closed/private online community. MySpace and Facebook are enormously successful external social networks (ESN), which are available to all Web users. You have to be a member of AIA to log into Soloso; you cannot post content, set up a profile, and participate in forums, blog, etc. without logging in. These are the hallmarks of an ISN and, in my opinion, the Achilles heel of Soloso. It is the universality and accessibility of the ESN’s that make them so successful. The same is true of open blogs, such as my own SW Oregon Architect, which is hosted by Blogger. Anyone, anywhere can offer feedback for my posts. Conversely, only AIA members can access the content of my blog in Soloso, and then, of course, only those that seek it out. SW Oregon Architect can be linked directly to other open Web sites, and it permits end-users to make use of my blog in another context by employing web syndication. To the best of my knowledge, Soloso lacks this sort of functionality.

Bottom line, I find Soloso to be a little clunky and inherently flawed because of its exclusivity to AIA members only. It will take a groundswell of support by the AIA rank and file to get a successful online community rolling, and the numbers simply may not be there. A lot of energy is needed to help it along, which doesn’t appear to exist yet. I’m afraid that most AIA members still don’t even know about this online community or recognize the Soloso brand. The Institute’s choice of the inscrutable name it has bestowed upon its Web 2.0 enterprise doesn’t help matters.

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