Monday, November 28, 2005

Social Software: Attempting a Definition

To some social software is a new term, to others it is another name for groupware. Is it the latest fad, or is it a revolution in how people rendezvous, connect, collaborate and communicate, both on-line and off-line? The language used in the social software discussion – open vs. closed, conversational vs. broadcast, individual vs. collaborative, chaotic (as in developing in own natural way) vs. planned, remix vs. product, free and open vs. proprietary – is reflective of a desire to reclaim the promise of the Internet as something more than an interlinked repository of information.

Proponents of social software contend that through social software people come freely into contact with others, interacting with and influencing each other for their own personal reasons. It is designed to support conversational interaction between individuals or groups, facilitate social feedback that creates an individual’s digital reputation and builds trust, and nurture social networks to manage personal profiles and help build relationships. (Boyd (2003))

Social software is a tool for augmenting human social and collaborative abilities, a medium for facilitating social connection and information interchange, and as an ecology, for enabling a "system of people, practices, values and technologies in a particular local environment". (Coates, 2003)
Shirky sees it as sSoftware that supports group interaction, in both online and offline contexts (Shirky, 2003). Siemens (2004) agrees and categorizes social software into five broad classes:

Communication (e.g.IM, Email)
Experience Sharing (e.g.Blogs, Flickr,
Social networking (,
Relationship Management (e.g.Orkut, Friendster)
Collaborative or Competitive Gaming (e.g.MMORPGs, online games)

Butterfield (2003) suggests that social software can be defined by its functionality citing that social software will have revolves around ways to protect, build and define Identity, Presence, Relationships, Conversations and Groups.

Influenced by his reading of Englebart (1962) Coates (2003) suggests that social software is a software-prosthesis” that augments the human social and collaborative abilities through structured mediation. It removes the external factors (e.g. language, geography, background) that limit social contact, filters content, establishes user presence, and minimizes unproductive social interactions. Through the refinement of these activities it can uncover and improve on the mechanisms that people use to socially interact.

Thomas (2003) points out that augmentation is a tool analogy, and that social software should be neutral with regard to personal control. Rheingold (2003) agrees, citing that the tool analogy does condition the way we think. Computer-aided activities are seen differently if they are regarded as a tool, a medium, or an ecology. When viewed as an ecology, the emphasis is not on the technology but on the human activities that are served by the technology. It cannot be preprogrammed because groups cannot be predefined. Users of social software will assert their rights to have their values honoured and will define the software by their usage of it. (Shirky, 2003)

Michael Hotrum.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Social communication

I attended the Lornet Conference last week in Vancouver Canada. While presenters droned on with long lectures and longer powerpoint shows I spent some time observing audience social behaviour. A good 20% of the audience were multitasking (or not listening to the presentation at least) with notebook in lap. Their attention was split between reading and responding to e-mails, posting comments, preparing presentations, composing text and occasionaly glancing up and squinting at the presnter and the display screen on the stage.
is this multitasking? Is it "rude" behaviour? Is it an example of social communication? here's installment 2 - an environmental scan of social software.

Social communication is overlapping – offline and online - as new tools and approaches link the physical world and the electronic world in common experiences, acknowledging that human interaction in the 21st century is comprised of both online and F2F interaction. People engage in face to face conversation at a conference, while they chat online or post to collaborative wikis or personal blogs to inform and interact with an online audience.
But there are a number of challenges concerning the design, development, implementation and adoption of social software. We have a limited body of knowledge about on-line social behaviour, the needs of individual vs. group, privacy issues, and we need more research into the organic nature of social behaviour.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


I have experienced distance learning environments as student and as a developer. While many things perplex and please me about the distance learning experience, my main concerns revolve around the personal and the social. From the personal perspective I want freedom. I want to set my own course of learning, share and explore with many, not one, and pace myself and set my time as required by my personal needs. On the social side I want to experience the sharing of learning with like minded individuals, work collaboratively and build professional relationships. In short I want distance with freedom and society. Can it be achieved? Well, my continuing research into social software suggests that there is a growing number of us who are trying to achieve the “personal and the social learning experience” through distance learning. In the next few installments I will be posting sections of a paper I am preparing on social software – an environmental scan of where we are and what is available. Here’s the first instalment.

What can be done to make software serve social needs is under scrutiny and active development by those involved in its ideation, conceptualization, design, development and implementation. There is an increasing realization that the approach, the users, and the design processes are in a continuous flux, and to take a stand is to discover the shifting sand beneath your feet.

Most of the discussion about social software is taking place through social software tools – primarily blogs, wikis, and videocasts. By its nature “blog talk” is conversational, minimalist, with many links and trackbacks to previous comments. These installments are an attempt to provide an environmental scan the postings on social software – as they inexorably meander through the minimalist scripts of blogs and wikis.

The discussion about social software is particularly passionate. Comments of dismissal, of encouragement, of praise, condemnation, debate, and advice course through the blogs. Many tout it as the next big thing; others contend it is an overhyped term for the tools that we’ve always used for social interaction - Usenet newsgroups, chatrooms, instant messaging, bulletin boards, and multi-user games and more. Others focus on how social software is a way to envision a new model of social interaction –on and off/line – that is enhanced by computerization.