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news and thoughts on and around the development of the iCite net
by Jay Fienberg

My take on what is "Social Software"

posted: May 17, 2003 2:59:34 PM

I have put myself / the iCite net in the discussion of the creation of a "social software alliance" (see the Social Software Alliance site), and I have been thinking about the iCite net as becoming an example of "social software".

I am not that into these kinds of labels, especially because they often are latched onto mostly by hype-only marketeers and their victims, but as a librarian, I do have to say "OK, these kinds of categories do have some use". So, in the debate about whether there is such a thing as "social software" or whether things that could be called "social software" should be called that, I have to say that my opinion is "yes, it can be useful to categorize things as social software" with the caveat that "no, to the degree social software ever might seem to be a lot of marketing hype, it really isn't anything new". Kind of like "web services" actually ;-)

Having got that off my chest, here are my two points of definition of social software:

* software that greater fulfills its function the greater number of users use the software to connect to each other

* software that is architected to support a potentially unlimited number of users and a potentially unlimited number of paths of connection between users

A word processor is not social software--it is designed for one user. A workgroup document management system is usually not social software--it is usually designed for a limited group of users to do "unsocial" tasks.

A chat system is social software in that it can potentially support all kinds of connections (chat rooms), and is generally designed for a large body of users more than a small group of users (and definitely not a single user). Blogs are social software when they are about bloggers connecting one blog to another (via links in posts or blogrolls, as the most obvious examples).

I think a lot of social software development is occuring around ways to make things connect (i.e., "networks" in a general sense of the term) that get better as the network grows. the iCite net will be like this in that the more iCites that get created that link to each other, the richer the network.

Ultimately, I actually wish "social software" could be just called "Internet software" if that could be understood to mean more about the principle of the Internet as an interconnected / interdependent "network of networks", rather than some information technology. But, at this point, most people see Internet = IT, so a name like "social software" seems to be needed.

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