3.Social software – building blocks of online communities
In general, the term has some overlap with "new media", "computer-mediated communication" and the likes. All these try to convey the meaning of the new communication technologies on the human interaction and formation of communities.
As pointed out by Boyd , social software is an antithesis of the former collaborative software (or "groupware") - instead of being project-based, "top-down" solutions, social software is a tool for individuals to get into spontaneous "bottom-up" co-operation. He also outlines three important features:
- Support for conversational interaction between individuals or groups - especially the interaction where participants can determine the pace of interaction by choosing a suitable channel (see also our previous lecture). E.g. using an instant messenger allows a rapid exchange of ideas, while slower methods like posting to a web forum favour a more thoughtful approach. Moreover, the medium can be freely changed during the exchange - e.g. when a single blog post creates such a feedback that it makes a whole new forum or newsgroup necessary.
- Support for social feedback - as already Eric Raymond noted in the initial 1997 version of his well-known essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" , online communities are based on reputation. It may be the nearly god-like authority of the major leaders of free/open-source software projects (e.g. Linus Torvalds in Linux development), but it can also be the "karma" system in Slashdot or "trusty","sexy" and "cool" labels in Orkut.com. Sometimes, the reputation can be directly influence one's financial standing - e.g. frequent sellers on eBay depend largely on their reputation to find subsequent deals, therefore bad reputation is a serious issue which is to be avoided at all costs.
- Support for social networks - this should reflect people's real-life relationships online as well as be a tool for developing new ones. An interested thing to notice here is the suggested principle or six degrees of separation - namely it should be possible to link any two random people on Earth by following the chain of acquaintances which would not be longer than six persons. Websites like the abovementioned Orkut.com as well as others tend to support this suggestion.
In addition, Webb  has outlined the following aspects which are seen at successful social software applications:
- Identity - although it is fully possible (and often acceptable by other people) to change one's identity, it is generally much more rewarding to stick with one, be it then connected to the real person (like in many technical forums) or not (e.g. in many games). Again, the most important reward here is reputation (we can also call it social capital of the person). Be it the authority of top technical wizard or the one of a superb master of an online game, the online identity will be the channel to transfer it to the real person behind it.
- Presence -
- BOYD, S. (2003). Are you ready for social software?. Darwin Magazine, May 2003.
- RAYMOND, E. (1997). The Cathedral and the Bazaar. O'Reilly.
- WEBB, M. (2004). On social software. Interconnected.org, April 28, 2004.
MAYFIELD, R. (2003). Social software is real. Ross Mayfield's Weblog, March 22, 2003.
PERKS, M. (2003). Social software - get real. Spiked-IT, March 20, 2003.