Go to http://www.facebook.com/pages/Maplesoft/47238276041. Maplesoft on Facebook? Math talk mingling with my meaningless personal status reports? Are we now laying a clear path for the Maple world to walk right into our private lives? Now I’m worried.

This Web thing used to be so simple. Build a Web site, put some interesting, if not useful, content on the pages and tell people about it. If people like it, they’ll tell their friends and the site becomes popular. The Maple Application Center is a great example of that. This archive of examples and applications for our products was a pioneering site of its kind in our industry segment … way back in 1997.

Then someone said to have a really successful site, you need people to directly engage each other online to ensure the relevance and freshness of content. This was still fairly simple with the available software tools. So we built MaplePrimes – the online blogging and forum community. It too was one of the first for our industry. The site became very popular, and lots of people joined and benefitted from the interactions.

The common element between the first two sites is that they are fairly linear in their worldviews. Build a site + pour in more and more content. The only difference with the latter is that a broader group of people participate in the essentially monotonic accumulation of content. Pretentious people call this model Web 1.0.

The social networking phenomenon is an example of something that these same people call Web 2.0. Individuals generate rich information, content, photos, videos, etc. and then through various sites that connect them to people around the world, their content dynamically interacts, morphs, and collectively emerges as something much greater than the sum of the parts.

eBay is far more than a Web site to buy and sell used stuff (that’s how it started). It has literally transformed the rules of commerce for consumer goods around the world. YouTube may seem like a large collection of videos but for my son, it’s a way to learn how to play new songs on his guitar; to get constructive commentary on his rendition of the Pink Panther theme on sax; to watch clips of classic hard rock bands from my youth so that he can lecture me on how I never really understood the essence of Led Zeppelin. Ironically, for him YouTube, a site for videos, is his gateway to the music world (a traditionally audio thing). 

The Maplesoft Facebook fan page is an experiment to say the least. But it follows the tradition of exploration that our company has always had when it comes to new media. Whether it’s Web sites, blogs, podcasts, or others, I’m very anxious to see how this particular experiment turns out.

In a past posting, I lamented about the Facebook group “Every time I walk into math class a little part of me dies”. Thousands are spending countless hours complaining about math. With a bit of work and utilizing the same connective infrastructure, could we bring about a more constructive space? Within my own friends’ network, I spot scientists, artists, musicians, and fortune tellers (ironically one of my friends is all of the above). The potential of social networking is fuelled by the dynamic interaction among a great diversity of individuals. When it works, the results are amazing and typically unexpected. When it doesn’t? Oh well, nothing much has been lost – it’s just a Web site.

To be honest, if you visit the Maplesoft fan page today, it does seem a little bare. So the invitation is out. Give this Facebook thing a try. Think of it as “digital loitering”. If you find your mind wandering on a slow work day, come on by and maybe share your thoughts on Maple stuff, on math, or anything else that’s on your mind. The best thing about digital loitering is that you don’t have to drive all the way to the mall and hang out in the food court with a bad cup of coffee, waiting for a friend to stop by to chat. The magic of the Internet will deliver some of the most interesting people on the planet to your virtual door so that you can hang out for a bit … and then easily kick them out when you get tired of them. But that little bit of interaction, for me, never fails to invigorate my day. BRB.

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