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April 18, 2008


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Sam Lawrence

I don't agree that email is social software. I do think that all this stuff is part of a larger, natural evolution that's being aggressively reshaped.

There's no doubt concepts and applications morph and evolve. They don't just pop out of thin air. I don't know many social software folks who believe it has. But they do distinguish between communication and collaboration.

Addressable conversations--like email--are a communication medium. Emails are just correspondence, like a letter. When email was brought into the Enterprise, the contents of those letters were about work. So, it became a productivity solution. The problem was always that email was only socialized to the people you manually added but many more people should or could have been included.

Social software is email inside out. Social software starts open and then sometimes has options for you to address it (narrow your group). You didn't address this blog to me, but I'm interested so I'm participating. Your messages on Twitter are open to all until you direct it at one person. Email starts as 1x1 and then addresses incrementally. This is the key point missing from Shirky's perspective and the very difference between social software and communication software.

Social Software is also an ingredient, like communication software (email). For sure, the market will swarm around until it settles on a new name. Enterprise 2.0 isn't a name that scales. Social Software sounds like goofing off. I personally keep it simple and refer to it as productivity software. That's the broader category when you apply this at work. And it's the driver our customers have for buying. Work is broken thanks to personal email and calendars.

Mike Berkley

I would agree with Sam. But I would go a step further. I favor a more narrow (but perhaps more future-focused) definition of social software: software that creates or utilizes a social graph. A "social graph", the term made famous by Facebook, is an ecosystem of interconnections and relationships between friends and colleagues within a community. Without knowledge of these connections, software is socially deficient.

Blogs are not inherently social. They have no knowledge of relationships between humans, and therefore are hindered in facilitating social interaction, other than through broadcast (or broadcast within a private group). A well-designed Facebook application, on the other hand, is inherently social because it has knowledge of the relationships among each of its users, automatically. That is true social software.

Frank Jania

It's very tempting (and probably too easy) to get into a debate over the semantic intricacies of the term "social software".

But as with a lot of things that are tempting and easy, its probably not worthwhile. :-)

I missed a good portion of the Lyons/Gotta twitt-off last week so I might be short on the context needed to know the rationale behind this post... Given that I'll share my thoughts on social software, and what distinctions the term carries for me.

I'm influenced heavily by some of the writing / speaking that Tom Coates and Stowe Boyd have done. In short short summary, I see social software as a set of tools that help us connect to other people, and build aggregate value.

I don't take as strict a view on the presence of a social graph as Mike Berkley does, so by "connect" I'll include as liberal a definition as the fact that I feel more connected to Sam, Mike B and Mike G for having been part of this conversation.

As for aggregate value, the fact that the post is public and this conversation is happening in public points to an aggregate value that can't be duplicated in email. That is, I'm not likely to happen across an email containing the same conversation if it's not addressed to me directly.

The word social holds a distinction to me that indicates that sharing, in as public as possible a forum, is the application's default mode of operation.

To support the distinction by contrast, I'd identify a class of tools called collaboration tools. These tools help us coordinate and communicate around a goal. The goal is a central distinction in my mind.

When I type an email, I likely have some goal in mind. It might be to ask a person to do something, or to inform some particular group of a particular fact, to reconnect with a friend, etc. This is contrasted by the way I use last.fm, or delicious, or my blog.

In those cases I'm sharing without a goal, and I'm not looking to coordinate other people around that goal. (I may of course have an agenda - perhaps I listen to a lot of unfamiliar R&B music hoping that when it's posted on last.fm someone I'm interested in will notice me - but that is not a "goal") However if, assuming I'm listening to whatever music I normally do, someone notices that we have the same taste and recommends a new artist to me we've accomplished something that neither of us set out specifically to do. This scenario is key.

While I can't speak for all vendors I can speak for myself. I've been a social software evangelist for the last two years. I make the distinction to my audiences as I've described because they are very used to working with directed media like email and don't always see its inefficiencies when overused and misused.

Describing the class of software where people share in the open by default and then benefit in possibly unanticipated ways as "social software" seems to resonate with the folks that I've talked to. Personally I think that the classification also encourages others to see how they can design tools that support open interaction as well.


Hi, I'm new in this social software thing, and trying to find its definition, but everytime I try to define and come up with some examples, it gets stuck.

Groupware, CSCW, and social software. What are the difference? Are they successors and predecessors? Or, is one subpart of another? Or, are they just the same thing with different names? Some people still consider they're the same, but why creating new name for the same thing, isn't it useless?

I also don't get the exact point why people connecting social software with web 2.0? Because I think it doesn't refer to a certain technology.

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