I've read a LOT on social software of late. As the pendulum of culture chic swings from the institution to the individual, it's natural that empowering the common participant is back in vogue. Not to trivialize it; this is important, and I'm glad to see it. This article is one of the more level-headed pieces on social software I've come across. (I wish I'd written it.)
This is from Darwin magazine, a good read and getting better.
BY STOWE BOYD
Support for social networks — to explicitly create and manage a digital expression of people's personal relationships, and to help them build new relationships.
Social Software: Bottom-up
Social software is likely to come to mean the opposite of what groupware and other project- or organization-oriented collaboration tools were intended to be. Social software is based on supporting the desire of individuals to affiliate, their desire to be pulled into groups to achieve their personal goals. Contrast that with the groupware approach to things where people are placed into groups defined organizationally or functionally.
One good metaphor is worth a thousand words, so I suggest the following: Social software works bottom-up. People sign up in the system (for example, by downloading an IM client and registering an ID there) and then they affiliate through personal choice and actions
Traditional software approaches the relationship of people to groups from a top-down fashion. In the corporate setting, its hard to imagine a person existing without being specifically assigned membership to top-down groups: your team, your division, the budget committee and so on.
Over time, more sophisticated social software will exploit second and third order information from such affiliations — friends of friends; digital reputation based on level of interaction, rating schemes and the like. And this new software will support David Weinberger's notion of enabling groups to form and self-organize rather than have structure or organization imposed. (Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! Yes! )
Blogging is a good example of this dynamic, and perhaps is the primary irritant pushing us today to grope our way towards new terms and tools.
Traditional groupware puts the group, the organization or the project first, and individuals second.
Social software reflects the "juice" that arises from people's personal interactions. It's not about control, it's about co-evolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other. But there isn't a single clearly defined project, per se. It's a sprawling, tentacled world, where social dealings are inductive, going from the individual, to a group, to many groups and, finally, to the universe. Or at least the itty-bitty universe of all people using the Internet.
Despite the wet blankets and the naysayers, we are witnessing the appearance of a new crop of inductive, bottom-up social software that lets individuals network in what may appear to be crude approximations of meatworld social systems, but which actually are a better way to form groups and work them.
My thoughts exactly.
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