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Summary: A hyphotesis on SocialSoftware


> [new:LionKimbro:2006-11-01 18:06 UTC]
> Like nature vs. nurture, SoftTechnology vs. hard technology, and so on.
> Yes. And SelectiveAttachment has a similar shape to what you just described.

Social software is a class of software for supporting interacting groups of people.

ClayShirky says in his essay Social Software and the Politics of Groups [1]:

The radical change was de-coupling groups in space and time. To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the internet has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog.

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.

This is where sites such as MeatballWiki and CommunityWiki come in: To collect the knowledge and experience gained and to further our understanding of it.

A lot of people seem to be interpreting social software as only being about SocialNetworkingSoftware?. Even in the broader meaning given above, is it any difference from GroupWare?

A similar question was asked on MeatBall:SocialSoftware: Why not just use the term GroupWare? The answer given by ClayShirky is this:

GroupWare has two connotations that social software does not. First, it tends to refer to software for business-oriented and collaborative environments. Second, it tends to refer to software whose users think of themselves as participating in formal group activity.

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

a few specific pieces of social software


Agreed. I’ve also heard the idea that:

  • GroupWare is software where: You have a group of people. You want to organize them. So, you decide to use some GroupWare.
  • SocialSoftware is software that makes groups appear in the first place. It sucks people into it.

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.

This is a clear case of SocialSoftware. It is not GroupWare. You do not need to register, or sign up. Yet, it plays a role in forming groups of people. It is “social.”



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 [2].

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):


A computer is not a box, it’s a door which can be seen as an entrance to a social space.


Experimenting with social experiences is not technically difficult, it is socially complex.


However, the social complexity which makes it so difficult to perceive a computer as a door
- rather than as a box - goes hand in hand with technical complexity, when it comes to inviting
the participation of people who shy away from technology.


Experimenting with social experiences on the net - using the software products which make the experimenting possible - starts when one becomes member of a group; a group with a (user) role in a relationship with the (social) software developers.

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.

The urban legend that any one person is only Wikipedia:Six_degrees_of_separation from any other person on earth is becoming more and more known and accepted. Wiki:SixDegreesOfSeparationTheory

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 ?

MarkDilley - Lion that is a cool site, it sparked in me the relationship I was trying to get at for building the CommunityWikiFaq - QuestionBased? communication.

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:

Nat said, “So … and we’re going to build an open source groupware system! It’s going to be awesome!”
And I said, “… what are you thinking! Do not strap the ‘Groupware’ albatross around your neck! That’s what killed Netscape, are you insane?” He looked at me like I’d just kicked his puppy.
Groupware Bad by Jamie Zawinski 2005

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.

See WhatCommunicationSoftwareToUse SpokeVsCircleCommunications PublicWebJune2004Map CategoryInformationManagement CategorySocialSoftware SocialNetwork


Define external redirect: SocialNetworkingSoftware SelectiveAttachment PublicEmail QuestionBased

EditNearLinks: ClientServer UseNet VisualWho BlogoSphere GroupWare MeatballWiki RelationalDatabase WikiWikiWeb


The same page elsewhere: