Last week we talked about social software in my knowledge management class, using Stowe Boyd's description from Darwin Magazine as a starting point for "what is it." He lists three general criteria for social software: They support conversational interaction, social feedback and social networks. He also said that social software tends to bubble-up from individuals or small groups, where groupware is all about the collective and comes from the top-down.
The result of the discussion, and some additional writing I asked of the students, has me thinking that there is more to social software. Or more accurately, Boyd gives us the general framework, but it doesn't give a full picture of what I think of social software. Here are some additional ideas around what social software is / does. Maybe I am being too narrow-minded?
- The tools allow for self-forming networks. In most cases, there is nothing to explicitly join. You are a member if you say you are a member.
- I see a lot of self-reflection as these networks form as people try to establish who and what they are within the newly-forming groups. Maybe this is a feature of new groups, rather than social software / social networks.
- Ease-of-use is a very big factor with the tools. It needs to be easy for individuals to participate (both contribute and read).
- Contributors get "push button" publishing with no layers needed for approval. Some of the tools integrate into the author's regular workspace, so they can post to their blog by sending it email or a text message. Or they might be reading something and can compose a new post based on the current materials.
- Readers get tools that make it easy to know when new materials have been published. Tools bring the contributions of others into your workspace, rather than forcing you to visit yet another website or open multiple applications for every contribution space you want to visit.
- Also, the tools generally make it easier to leave direct comments on people's websites, which is frequently how people get started with their own contributions.
- In relation to this, there is the recognition that you are not just a contributor OR reader. You are both. Contributors get their ideas by reading what others have to say. And without readers, I doubt that the authors would be able to keep up their passion for the material.
- It is the customizable flow of information that really highlights the fluid nature of social software and the fluid networks that underlie those interactions. Each person participates in many different networks, and they each have a different set of information flowing through their workspace. And people flow in and out of these networks as well.
- There is much less sense of hierarchy in the social world. Anyone can provide feedback or comments to anyone else. In the corporate settings, people tend to be more aware of who is listening and modify what they have to say.