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At the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in San Diego this week, a new software application was introduced, called Boxxet (pronounced “box set”), which allows online interest groups to form by aggregating content from users, instead of the more traditional way of networking around a person or event.

The software is meant to build communities by allowing users to gather and rate search information. It operates on the assumption that in a group of 100 people, at least three will rate items for relevance. Boxxet won’t be available to the public for another couple of months, but free invitations to try it out are available on their website.

Conference organizer Tim O’Reilly, who cited Boxxet in his keynote address, says he’s big on the company because it solves a fundamental issue with social software. “The problem with social networks is they’re artificial – they aren’t ‘your’ network,” he says. “Boxxet is an infrastructure to let you develop your own social network.”

Social software has blossomed in the last few years, with blogging, social-networking sites like MySpace and LinkedIn, and the rise of user-driven content sites like Flickr. But, for the most part, the field is in an awkward, adolescent stage: self-conscious and prone to forming cliques. Furthermore, many users never contribute information to these communities. “Problem number one with social software is that people are lurkers,” says Boxxet’s founder, You Mon Tsang.

Boxxet software is designed to take into account that most people won’t contribute to its ratings section. Tsang uses the term “bionic software” to describe how social software can combine even limited amounts of human insight and preferences with software algorithms to generate “focused” communities.

Other than asking its users to register, Boxxet functions like a typical Web search tool. Type a term or phrase and it produces links to existing social networks created by Boxxet users that mention the term. The results are culled from blogs, news sites, photo sites, and lists of bookmarks that people choose to make public.

Once in a Boxxet, a user sees a page with “recent news and blogs,” including photos, as well as popular blogs on the topic, a search engine geared specifically to the topic, and a floating block of text (a “tagcloud”) linking to terms referenced on the page. In addition, there are places to submit bookmarks and other related links, as well as links for related merchandise.

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