Social software is a class of software for supporting interacting groups of people.
Indeed, telephone conference calls got us decoupling in space, and bulletin boards on office walls and hallways got us decoupling in time, but only the decoupling of time and space has enabled incredibly easy group forming on the Internet.
The interesting part about the use of social software is the group dynamics. This is what surprises us continuously. This is why “designing software for group-as-user is a problem that can’t be attacked in the same way as designing a word processor or a graphics tool.” (Shirky) There are political decisions built into the software (eg. moderation), the group dynamics change when the software changes, and a general lack of ideas of how and why things work in this environment.
That is, social software applies to software that allows casual, incidental, peer-to-peer interaction, whereas groupware applies to dedicated groups and may include complex client-server architectures.
The Web is an extremely complex client-server architecture. An interesting juxtaposition, though: just as the term ClientServer has been decoupled from its original definition to merely refer to GUI front-ends to RelationalDatabases, so has GroupWare come to be associated with a small class of client-server applications: shared calendaring, forums and email, project management. The term has such deeply ingrained connotations that it’s no wonder that SocialSoftware has come into vogue to replace it. --EvanProdromou
Agreed. I’ve also heard the idea that:
I had an idea for some SocialSoftware that is clearly not GroupWare: TransparentEmail (or, we could call it: PublicEmail?.) It goes like this: Large quantities of our email, we don’t care if people see. For example, if you write to a mailing list, you don’t care if people in general, around the world, see it.
So, you make it so that whenever you send an email, a copy also shows up on your web page. Obviously, it doesn’t constitute a full blog entry- no. You just have a little section on your blog: “Most recent public e-mail.” It’s like the PersonalLogServer, but for email. People could see, “What kinds of interactions is this person making?” If they were interested in you, if they wanted to know what kinds of things you were doing, they could just look. If they were interested in the subject TOO, they could send you an email, or join the mailing list.
there is definitely a need out there that would be filled by making it easy for people to find other things one has written. i am noticing on orkut right now one of the frequently requested features is to see to what communities a specific user posts.
I have written up a long article of the history of term Tracing the Evolution of Social Software .
Here are four remarks about Social Software as they emerge from my lack of faith for all i have been reading about it so far (i do not believe “Social Software” can be talked about without being experienced):
These remarks have been worded after reading the following article by Clay Shirky:
Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software
Perhaps what should be “talked about and experimented with” is a “Social Experience”? I mean the type of Social Experience (on the net of course) which can be lived up with (grokked?) even by “not-a-nerd/geek/techie” type of person?
I’ve been thinking a lately about something I’m finding hard to put into words. Let’s have a go at it anyway … it seems far too specific; how can I say this more generally ? Is there a better terminology that I could use ?
Summary: Bridge-building is getting easier.
It seems that historically, until very recently, humans have grouped themselves into fairly homogenous communities. In any one particular community, the vast majority went to the same religious ceremonies, had similar political beliefs, ate similar foods prepared in similar ways, spoke the same language, went to the same school, … etc. It was a package all-or-nothing deal – take it, or try some other community.
Recently however (with improvements in transportation and communication), people have realized that some things are orthogonal. Separation of church and state – rather than have one state church (and the country it controlled) in bitter opposition to another state church (and the country that one controlled), one can choose whether to follow this-or-that church (or none at all), and independently chose whether to live in this-or-that country.
With dozens of more-or-less arbitrary choices, some individuals became unique representatives of a particular collection of choices.
Diffusion of information became much easier – information could spread through one political group, which overlapped various religious groups, which overlapped other political groups. Even though the Ford group has no direct overlap with their bitter enemies, the Chevy group, other categories of groups overlap both of them enough to allow information to get from a person in one group to a person in the other.
Since a person could still only physically attend one particular church on a particular Sunday, and physically show up to vote in only one city on an election day, people still formed a strong allegiance to one particular group in each category. Switching to a different group was still all-or-nothing in that category, but at least one could still continue to meet with friends in other categories of groups.
The internet allows a group to “meet” while de-coupling in time and space. Now switching to a different group is no longer all-or-nothing – someone can gradually become more active in one group, while slowly giving less and less attention to a “competing” group. It may even be possible for a person to be strongly active in 2 groups that, in earlier times, it would be inconceivable for someone to be a member of both groups simultaneously.
Once only a few specialized individuals (language translators/interpreters, political ambassadors, scribes, missionaries, the captain and crew of global trading companies) connected one group to another. Now I’m starting to see that every person I meet is a connection point – that person can funnel information sharing between me (and my other friends that I do not (yet) have in common with that person) and that person’s halo of friends one and two hops away.
What’s the obvious conclusion here ? What’s the next step ? HiveMind, perhaps ?
This page needs a list of the social software we talk about.
I also want to work in a jwz quote, to give the “other” point of view:
A hyphotesis on SocialSoftware. The way first users start using communication software is observed by others and influences their understanding of it. It is then imitiated and this creates an reinforcing feedback loop leading into a social convention.
Like nature vs. nurture, SoftTechnology vs. hard technology, and so on.
Yes. And SelectiveAttachment? has a similar shape to what you just described.