Thursday, May 24, 2007

Social Software - More Than Technology

Came across a thought provoking essay by Danah Boyd about her take on the significance of Social Software. Its an intriguing read if you are interested in the significance of this concept beyond the tech aspects into more about how it is shaping and changing social behavior.

The article begins by giving an interesting history behind the concepts of social software/social computing and the various definitions. As is often the case, researchers and developers are unhappy with 'new' concepts and come out saying that 'they have always been there', however Danah makes a great point that Social software is about a movement, not simply a category of technologies. The author goes on to say:

It’s about recognizing that the era of e-commerce centered business models is over; we’ve moved on to web software that is all about letting people interact with people and data in a fluid way. It’s about recognizing that the web can be more than a broadcast channel; collections of user-generated content can have value. No matter what, it is indeed about the new but the new has nothing to do with technology; it has to do with attitude.

Danah argues that there are three dramatic changes that have been brought on by Social Software:

1. The way in which technologies are designed - The people behind these technologies are approaching design and deployment in fundamentally different ways. The key design values of the social software movement include:

  • Hack it up and get it out there
  • Learn from your users and evolve the system with them
  • Make your presence known to your users and invite them to provide feedback
  • When you make mistakes, grovel for forgiveness; your human too.
2. The way that participation spreads - Organic growth is at the heart of social software, but organic growth is not just a means of advertising - it is the primary means in which the culture of a site is formed. Values are built into social software, and spread through the networks of people who join.

3. The way people behave - Along with social software came a new way of building context. Unlike in early social technologies (usenet etc) that were about finding people with similar interests the current movement is about people first and topics second. It is far more about connecting to people and watching shared interests emerge through that. Context is no longer defined by the topic but by egocentric collections of people.

A few observations/thoughts that spring to mind:

On technology - I feel that some of this thinking could help bring traditional waterfall development at large organization out of the stone age. I am not talking about mission critical financial applications, but I think in general most 'internal' customers at companies would rather have in-house software on their desk sooner with a few bugs than wait much longer and realize that it wasn't what they really wanted in the first place.

On Participation - How does this aspect affect deployment of social software in business situations and/or B2B environments. I feel that social software can add tremendous value in the business world, but will competitive thinking stand it the way?

On Behavior- How will this movement impact company cultures as organizations begin to tread down the enterprise 2.0 path and experiment with social software. Will it work at all, given that the context for these applications is born in the consumer and social communities.

1 comment:

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