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social software

Social software is the standard name given chat, wiki software, blog, prediction market and other such software which generally facilitates social interactions of a more or less formal sort - social protocols.

Most technology optimists believe these technologies useful in consensus decision making and the creation of community but these remain at present unproven theses. Most theorists would point to the failure of mailing list, newsgroup and threaded web discussions to actually generate much but years of squabbling and long-standing enmities. Relationships that form have in the opinion of some theorists been more a result of common resistance to obvious disruption or stupidity. Which is of course one way to define community itself.

many views


The single best short history of social software and variant terms is by Christopher Allen on his blog - tracing the evolution of social software. It credits K. Eric Drexler with the origin of the term that seems to have been to avoid the commercial POV that became associated with the term "groupware".

At shirky.com Clay Shirky adds his own perspective which is insightful in particular about links and tags as contrasted to conventional ontology.

Atcorante.com, Ofsou-Amaah notes that in an earlier essay of his, notes that "the only difference... is that most of" the new software "is web-native" and obeys the W3 standards. There is however still work like that of yousoftware that extends Microsoft Outlook. However attention.xml seems to be attempting to overtake the proprietary systems and has been adopted by AOL for instance. In these models, "the RSS stream becomes the site". This is one more reason to prefer the generic term web service.

Steve Gillmor of ZDNet, Dave Sifry of Technorati, and Eric Hayes of You Software are other noted supporters of the attention.xml model.

Another difference noted by Paolo is that social network services and such related features as recommenders, e.g. greasemonkey or Shylock for better prices, answer recommendations or introductions, the ability to tag friendsas rojo.jot.com implements, are quite different and better in current social software.

Danah Boyd however considers the primary difference to be that the Internet as mass media permits mass participation with quite different social and political character than any prior generation of multi-user software.

At c2.com Ward Cunningham, the "inventor of wiki" (though this will look like a fatuous claim once one actually reads Allen's history above) holds forth on his own theories.

A more biological and political rhetoric is employed by Craig Hubley of the open politics foundation and Living Platform itself. In Living Platform in Practice he notes and repeats on corante.com that "after the departure of the instigators, there was a renewed emphasis on imposed categories at the Green Party of Canada itself. But this was also in context of a general attack on the principles of a self-organized means of writing the platform - a power backlash - so if anything it is evidence that the links and tags do threaten, in time, the categories and ontologies that exist in the minds of the power figures. They just do not notice, until you have stolen nearly all of their dinosaur eggs." This is fairly typical of Hubley's power network analysis which focuses on deference relationships and the intellectual integrity required to maintain them.

no clear future


In Going Home - Our Reformation, Robert Paterson argues his view that "it is the tribes that will start to rebuild our culture and that will replace the machine institutions with new ones that support life. It is the network effect that will give these tribes power beyond their small cell size." This suggests that there might be considerable power in the organizing of social software and the social protocols and organization protocols they can reliably support. That new civilization protocols, as investigated by (among others) the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard Law School, might take root from models originating in social software.

However, there is just as much or more evidence that politics as usual prevails regardless of technology.