Joho the Blog » Why social software now?

Why social software now?

A small brouhaha is brewhaha-ing over whether “social software” is mere hype. (See Frank Paynter, for example.) After all, the category is about as broad as “software for people” and includes technology as old as holding hands.

And yet it’s the thing I came away from the O’Reilly Conference most excited about.

First, I consider social software actually to be emergent social software. That narrows the field to software that enables groups to form and organize themselves. Yes, it’s still broad but at least it’s not coextensive with any software that has a user interface.

Second, it doesn’t much matter to me whether the software is new or old. I’m excited about the fact that that type of software is now being recognized (i.e., “hyped”) as important. And my question is: Given that most of the software is old, why is this category now becoming hot?

Sure, in part it’s because consultants (like, um, me) and writers (like, um um, me) now have something new to flap their gums about. But, more important, I think and hope it’s because the central idea behind emergent social software is now becoming acceptable: We’re beginning to think that letting groups start without rules, letting people organize themselves as they see fit at the moment and in that context, is actually a good idea and not just a waste of time, a hippy dream, or a threat. Gosh, maybe a wiki isn’t only an invitation to vandals but is a useful way for people to collaborate! But to think so means trusting groups of people to work well together even when their choke collars are undone.

Much emergent social software may be old hat, but that now we’re willing to recognize its value is pretty damn exciting.

19 Responses to “Why social software now?”

  1. I think that social software is on the rise now because not only is it technologically a high point, but socially (no pun intended), it’s huge. People that know nothing about the Internet want LiveJournals and YahooGroups. MoveableType is erupting with its new TypePad project. So many people are interested in this technology whose fundamentals have long been around yet laid dormantly undeveloped to their full potential.

    I honestly feel like social software will be around and developed for as long as society has the need to communicate with each other and the Internet impacts our lives as much as it does today.

  2. I’m sure this is bad blogging/commenting etiquette to double post, but I wanted to say thank you for LiveBlogging the conferences you attended at ETCON. It was awesome.

  3. I can’t imagine that thanking anyone would ever be bad etiquette :) Thank *you*.

  4. “Hype” and “hope” are the key words here. In reality, there is nothing new about “social software” except the hype surrounding this particular label. Your definition of social software is designed to justify and hype and promote your own hope. Sure, blogs and wikis are newish in an evolutionary way, but it’s wise to assume they represent only steps on a path to nobody-knows-where-for-sure.

  5. Tom, my blog entry didn’t say the software was new. In fact, I say some of it is ancient. The piece is precisely on why there’s renewed interest in this not-new software. My definition of social software is designed to try to isolate that which (some) people are finding new and interesting about this not-new software.

  6. Why social software now?

    Because meeting people from the internet has ‘crossed the chasm’.

    Turn on the way back machine to 1995 and think about the idea that most people had about meeting people from online in the Real World. While a few of us thought it was good, the vast majority thought it was crazy.

    As the net becomes more and more a part of people’s live, the idea of meeting people online first, then in the Real World, is now widely accepted.

    The change isn’t occuring in software, it’s occurring in people’s minds. Finally the guy who loves to make wooden ships in the bottle is realizing there’s a ton of other ship builders out there and some of them live in his town. Only through the net can he find this out. And now it is socially acceptable by the mainstream for him to discuss his new community and meet his new friends in person.

  7. Well put, Michael.

  8. Many white collar workers find themselves, by choice or not, working as free angents or within informal professional networks. Under these circumstances, individuals have no choice but to volunteer, produce without certainty of return, and collaborate. Social software delivers a structure for collective productivity.

    See Hubert St. Onge’s insightful blog entry, in which he distinguishes between “entitlement” and “self-initiation” as working philosophies. Social software serves those individuals who choose “self-initiation”.

    http://www.eccop.com/blogs/public/archives/000038.html

  9. Well that’s what you’d expect, right? The population of dumb, only locally co-ordinated bloggers and wikinauts go about their business for some time, and then, bang … because of some obscure mathematical relationship, critical mass and phase-change kicks in.

    If this is an *emergent* phenomenon, by definition it’s irreducible to something we can understand in terms of it’s parts (people and their beliefs).

    The guys doing statistical network analysis might be able to find a law or something (did the number of links per node just cross a threshold so that the social software community became a small world?) but you won’t find any other sort of explanation. If you could, (hammering the point home) it wouldn’t be emergent.

  10. Phil, I don’t see anyone in this thread saying that social software is emergent. Rather, “emergent social software” enables the organizational structure/properties of groups to emerge.

  11. “Social” software is happening for a couple reasons… One, knowledge managment hasn’t been automated to any extent. Top down attempts to do so (CRM, ERP, etc.) have been multibillion dollar failures and drags on the econony. So as the number of available man months of development effort have climbed (thanks to a bunch of laid-off IT people and hurdles to writing code) bottom-up solutions to generic knowledge management problems were almost bound to happen.

  12. Dang, this got stuck in my head and I went crazy at Corante:
    http://www.corante.com/amateur/archives20030501.html#32434

  13. Social Software – Why Now

    My latest for The Amateur Hour is up. It’s a look at why social software is happening now, spurred on…

  14. “Social software” as a term of art is likely to come to mean the flip-flop of what groupware, and other project- or organization-oriented tools, were intended to do.

    Social software is based on the person first, and the social group second — the group arising from the interactions of individuals. People exist as individuals — with their own interests, biases, and connections. These are reflected in social relationships, from which groups emerge.

    Groupware put the group first, and individuals second. As a member of a lotus notes group, for example, you have various sorts of access to various sorts of information based on the administrator’s settings. Its all about control.

    The fact that you are involved in other groups, have had a long history with various other people in the groups, and so on, is secondary to the fixed purpose of the group, whatever that is. Social software reflects the ‘juice’ that arises from people’s personal interactions. It’s not about control, its about coevolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other. But there isn’t a single clearly defined project, per se.

    The answer to nearly all ‘why now’ questions is technology, and that is true here. The availability of low-cost high bandwidth, tools like blogs, and so on, coupled with some density inflection point of motivated users of the Internet equals social software as next big thing, as we move from control toward coevolution.

  15. Why social software now?

    David Weinberger on Social Software: We’re beginning to think that letting groups start without rules, letting people organize themselves as they see fit at the moment and in that context, is actually a good idea and not just a waste…

  16. I’ve been interested in social software since some time before the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference. I have definitely seen a lot more movement lately on this subject. With blogs, wiki’s and tools like http://www.itsnotwhatyouknow.com providing more interaction, I feel that there is a major front about to occur on the Internet as a whole.

  17. Tools, Practice and Adaptation

    One of the better parts of my talk at the Bay Area Futurist Salon was finally meeting Eric Eugene Kim of BlueOxen. He posted some well grounded reflections, but raised some issues, so I’ll continue the conversation here. Eric questioned…

  18. Weinberger on Why Now

    David Weinberger offers his thoughts on the why now? of social software: …First, I consider social software actually to be emergent social software. That narrows the field to software that enables groups to form and organize themselves. Yes, it’s sti…

  19. […] Why social software now?. “A small brouhaha is brewhaha-ing over whether “social software” is mere hype. (See Frank Paynter, for example.) After all, the category is about as broad as “software for people” and includes technology as old as holding hands. And yet it’s the thing I came away from the O’Reilly Conference most excited about. First, I consider social software actually to be emergent social software. That narrows the field to software that enables groups to form and organize themselves. Yes, it’s still broad but at least it’s not coextensive with any software that has a user interface. Second, it doesn’t much matter…” Reposted from Joho the Blog […]

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