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Broadly conceived, this term could encompass older media such as mailing lists and Usenet, but some would restrict its meaning to more recent software genres such as blogs and wikis. Others suggest that the term social software is best used not to refer to a single type of software, but rather to the use of two or more modes of computer-mediated communication that result in community formation. In this view, people form online communities by combining one-to-one (e.g., email and instant messaging), one-to-many (Web pages and blogs), and many-to-many (wikis) communication modes. In many online communities, real life meetings become part of the communication repertoire. The more specific term collaborative software applies to cooperative work systems.
Common to most definitions is the observation that some types of software seem to facilitate "bottom-up" community development, in which membership is voluntary, reputations are earned by winning the trust of other members, and the community's mission and governance are defined by the communities' members themselves. Communities formed by "bottom-up" processes are contrasted to the less vibrant collectivities formed by "top-down" software, in which users' roles are determined by an external authority and circumscribed by rigidly conceived software mechanisms (such as access rights).
The term also arose in the late nineties to describe software emerging out of alliances between programmers and social groups whose particular kinds of cultural intelligence are locked out of mainstream software. In this understanding of the term, the social is understood to also have a political and aesthetic sense, not simply acting as a kind of glue for a collection of normatively understood 'agents' whose inter-relations are formatted by software. What both positions share is an understanding that particular design decisions and the grammar of interactions made possible by each piece of software is socially significant. As the term has become more important to the computer industry, this earlier use of the term has often been edited out of memory.
Tools for Online Communication
The tools used in social software applications include communication tools and interaction tools. Communication tools typically handle the capturing, storing, and presentation of communication, usually written but increasingly including audio and video also. Interaction tools handle mediated interactions between a pair or group of users. They differ from communication tools in their focus on establishing and maintaining a connection among users, facilitating the mechanics of conversation and talk.
Communication tools are generally asynchronous, interaction tools synchronous (phone, Net phone, video chat) or near-synchronous (IM, text chat).
We can add to this distinction one that describes the primary user experience of each: communication involves the content of talk, speech, or writing; interaction involves the interest users establish in one another as individuals. In other words, a communication tool may want to make access and searching of text both simple and powerful. An interaction tool may want to present as much of a user's expression, performance, and presence as possible. The organization of texts, and providing access to archived contributions differs from the facilitation of interpersonal interactions between contributors enough to warrant the distinction in media.
An instant messaging application or client allows one to communicate with another person over a network in relative privacy. Popular clients include Gtalk, Skype, Meetro, ICQ, Yahoo! Messenger, MSN Messenger and AOL Instant Messenger. One can add friends to a contact list or buddy list, by entering their email address or messenger ID. If they are online, their name will be listed as available for chat. Clicking on their name will activate a chat window with space to write to the other person, as well as read their reply.
Internet Relay Chat (IRC) clients allow users to join chat rooms and communicate with many people at once, publicly. Users may join a pre-existing chat room or create a chat room about any topic. Once inside, you may type messages that everyone else in the room can read, as well as respond to messages from others. Often there is a steady stream of people entering and leaving. Whether you are in another person's chat room, or one you've created yourself, you are generally free to invite others online to join you. When others accept the invitation, they are taken to the room containing the other members, similar to the way conference calling works with phones. This facilitates both one-to-one and many-to-many interaction.
Originally modeled after the real-world paradigm of electronic bulletin boards of the world before Internet was born, internet forums allow users to post a "topic" for others to review. Other users can view the topic and post their own comments in a linear fashion, one after the other. Most forums are public, allowing anybody to sign up at any time. A few are private, gated communities where new members must pay a small fee to join for example the Something Awful Forums.
Forums can contain many different categories in a hierarchy according to topics and subtopics. Other features include the ability to post images or files or the ability to quote another user's post with special formatting in ones post. Forums often grow in popularity until they can boast several thousand members posting replies to tens of thousands of topics continuously.
There are various standards and claimants for the market leaders of each software category. Various add-ons, including translation and spelling correction software, may sometimes be available, depending on the expertise of the operators of the bulletin board. In some industry areas, the BB has its own commercially successful achievements: free and paid hardcopy magazines, professional and amateurish sites.
Blogs, short for web logs, are like online journals for a particular person. The owner will post a message periodically allowing others to comment. Topics often include the owner's daily life or views on politics or a particular subject important to them.
Blogs mean many things to different people, ranging from "online journal" to "easily updated personal website". While these definitions are technically correct, they fail to capture the power of blogs as social software. Beyond being a simple homepage or an online diary, some blogs allow comments on the entries, thereby creating a discussion forum. They also have blogrolls (i.e., links to other blogs which the owner reads or admires), and indicate their social relationship to those other bloggers using the XFN social relationship standard. Pingback and trackback allow one blog to notify another blog, creating an inter-blog conversation. In summary, blogs engage readers and build a virtual community around a particular person or interest. Examples include Slashdot, LiveJournal, BlogSpot
A wiki is a webpage that is easily editable using relatively easy to use wiki syntax. This means that everyone can edit, change or delete text. Examples include the original Portland Pattern Repository wiki, MeatballWiki, CommunityWiki, Wikipedia, Wiktionary and Wikisource.
Social network services allow people to come together online around shared interests or causes. For example, some sites provide dating services where users will post their personal profiles, location, age, gender, etc, and are able to search for a partner. Other shared goals or interests include business networking (Ryze and Linked In), emotionally supportive phone counseling (Phone Buddies), social event meetups (Meetup), or recreational hobbies.
Social network search engines are a class of search engines that use social networks to organize, prioritize, or filter search results.
There are two subclasses of social network search engines: those that use explicit social networks, and those that use implicit social networks.
Explicit social network search engines allow people to find each other according to explicitly stated social relationships such as XFN social relationships. For example, XHTML Friends Network allows people to share their relationships on their own sites, thus forming a decentralized/distributed online social network, in contrast to centralized social network services listed in the previous section.
Implicit social network search engines allow people to filter search results based upon classes of social networks they trust, such as a shared political viewpoint. This type of social network search engine mines the web to infer the topology of online social networks. For example, the NewsTrove search engine infers social networks from content - sites, blogs, pods, and feeds - by examining (among other things) subject matter, link relationships, and grammatical features to infer social networks. The user may then employ the social networks as filters to their search results.
Some sites allow users to post their list of bookmarks—or favorite websites—for others to search and view. The object is for people to meet others with whom they share a common interest. Examples include digg, del.icio.us, Netvouz, furl and Connectedy.
Much like social bookmarking, this software, aimed towards academics, allows the user to post a citation for an article found on the internet. These citations can be organized into predefined categories or a new category defined by the user. This will allow academics researching or interested in similar areas to connect and share resources. An example of this software is CiteULike.
Sites that allow visitors to keep track of their collectibles, ranging from books, records and DVDs. Users can share their collections and recommendations are generated based on the ratings using statistical computation and network theory. Some sites offer a buddy system, as a well as virtual checking out of items for borrowing among friends. Folksonomy is implemented on most sites. Examples include discogs.com for music and bibliophil.org and LibraryThing for books and Stuffopolis.com for all stuff.
Social Shopping Applications
These applications take advantage of the group to provide recommendations, and product reviews. Examples include SwagRoll, Crowdstorm, StyleFeeder, Kaboodle, thethingsiwant.com, reevoo and Yahoo! Shoposphere.
A hybrid of web-based social networks, instant messaging technologies and peer-to-peer connectivity and filesharing, peer-to-peer Social Networks generally allow users to share blogs, files (especially photographs) and instant messages. Some examples are imeem, QNext, Bouillon, Wirehog and Grouper. Also, Groove and WiredReach have similar functionality, but with more of a work-based, collaboration bias.
Virtual presence means being present at virtual locations. In particular, the term virtual presence denotes presence on World Wide Web locations pages and Web sites which are identified by URLs. People who are browsing a Web site are considered to be virtually present at Web locations. Virtual presence is a social software in the sense that people meet on the Web by chance or intentionally. The ubiqitous (in the Web space) communication transfers behavior patterns from the real world and Virtual worlds to the Web.
Virtual worlds and Massively-Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs)
Virtual Worlds and Massively-Multiplayer Online Games are places where it is possible to meet and interact with other people in a virtual world - which looks somewhat like reality. Some popular commercial worlds are Second Life, ActiveWorlds, The Sims Online, and There. Some commercial MMOGs (or, more accurately, MMORPGs) include Everquest and World of Warcraft. The Dotsoul Cyberpark is one of the more innovative non-commercial worlds, with the look and feel of Second Life and Active Worlds but an adamantly anticorporate stance. Other open-source and experimental examples include Planeshift, Croquet project, VOS and Solipsis.
Other Specialized Social Applications
There are many applications with social software characteristics that facilitate collaboration in specific contexts. Barnraiser offers free (GPL) social networking and group collaboration software platforms such as AROUNDMe and Igloo. Also consider Basecamp for project management and Nuvvo for elearning.
- Social bookmarking
- Motivations for contributing to online communities
- List of social software
- Online identity
- Online deliberation
- The WELL
- Wiki software
- Wikipedia's implied constitution
Key texts – Books
Additional material – Books
Key texts – Papers
Additional material - Papers
- James Seng's wiki page on Social Software
- Tracing the Evolution of Social Software
- Social Protocols: An Introduction
- Tom Coates' Definition of Social Software and Revised / Simplified Definition of Social Softwarecs:Social software
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