Lately, over the past couple of months, I have been doing a high number of customer briefings and traveling a lot. The workload increase has been noticeable for those following me either via this blog or through Twitter. One of the slides that has been well-received is one that I use to peel away the different terms associated with social computing. This is not the only way to look at the topic - and not necessarily the right way for all possible situations when you are trying to advise someone on a particular strategy or question. However, Figure 1 below helps with the conversation I have with people on the topic. It seems to add value and remove some of the confusion that people have when it comes to "social everything".
What I've tried to illustrate more than "define" are how different terms and memes relate to one another. Again - it's not a perfect chart. If I had to define social computing more purely, I'd lean more towards definitions used by academic institutions or by social computing research labs of major vendors (e.g., HP, IBM, Microsoft). But in more simple terms - I find people thinking of social computing transition to a conversation on social media, social networking, or social software. Other times - especially when it comes to mobility - the discussion tends to anchor itself around devices and their form factors (e.g., iPhone) as well as what's possible (in terms of application scenarios given connectivity advances (e.g., location services, augmented reality).
But we also need to learn from history and see things in both an evolutionary as well as revolutionary lens - so collaboration, content, communication and productivity discussions - long time initiatives across many organizations are still very credible pursuits with relevant business benefits. Interestingly, these conversations often include debates on the merits of the same underlying social software tooling that comes up in conversations related to other domains such as social media. For instance, blogs comes up in multiple contexts, as do communities and wikis - it becomes a circular discussion as people try to describe these domains by tools ("what is") rather than by their application ("how used"). Web 2.0 and Enterprise 2.0 are additional memes that have been kicked around for some time with additional debate as to what exactly is included in those terms when it comes to tools.
For example - if social media includes blogs and communities - then what makes it different from Web 2.0? Or, if Enterprise 2.0 includes wikis, then how is that different than collaboration (joint work)? When you describe domains by tools - you'll never get out of this endless debate - which promted me to create the simple illustration in Figure 1.
And yes, I agree totally that this is not purely a technology discussion but that's not the point I'm trying to convery with this illustration. What you'll notice (based on the color coding of social software) is that social software becomes the ingredients more-or-less for these other terms and memes to dip into. Social software answers the "what is" while the other terms describe "how used". This does require you to agree with a very broad definition which I have leveraged from Clay Shirky, who made three interesting statements on social software:
- “It's software that supports group interaction.“
- Every time social software improves, it is followed by changes in the way groups work and socialize.“
- "One consistently surprising aspect of social software is that it is impossible to predict in advance all of the social dynamics it will create."
That lead me to the illustration depicted in Figure 2 - that social software has been around for a very long time - and has constantly evolved while being called many different names (e.g., groupware, etc). Again - Figure 2 is not meant to be the only way to look at the topic - just one way to help people clarify the confusion out there so they can formulate what all of 'it" (social media, Enterprise 2.0) means to them, the people they are delivering solutions for, and the organizations they support.
When we think of social software in terms of "waves" (with all due respect to the Google folks), coupled with maturing platforms, infrastructure and networking services - you can actually clear up a lot of confusion that people have when they try to de-tangle all the jargon out there and begin focusing on what is really more important - the people and organizational aspects unrelated to the various technology debates.
Hopefully this helps... I used these slides to level set groups as to what my research focus is here at Burton Group. While I tend to summarize it as covering social computing - the technology aspects are only one component of my research - in reality, what I end up spending more and more time on is exploring how social formations and participatory cultures emerge - and how IT augments relationship structures and behaviors. While somewhat academic - it does better describe where I am right now.