Roland Piquepaille's Technology Trends
How new technologies are modifying our way of life

samedi 10 mai 2003

Is "social software" the new overhyped buzzword?

In an article for the Guardian, Jack Schofield says yes.

Social software is the next big thing: everybody's talking about it. A lot of people are developing exciting new programs to aid social interaction. Social software is being massively overhyped. It's just a sideshow run by a few geeks with a tenuous grip on reality. Social software isn't new: we've been using it for decades. We already have email, Usenet newsgroups, chatrooms, instant messaging, bulletin boards, multi-user games and more. Social software isn't a new technology at all, it just reflects changes in society. Take your pick...

On the contrary, in Historical Roots of Social Software, Howard Rheingold offers insights about this new phenomenon. Here is the conclusion of this must-read article full of references.

Something new is happening, truly, in terms of the kinds of software available, and the scale of use. But in many ways, this something new would not be happening if many people over many years had not coded, experimented, socialized, observed, and debated the social relationships and group formation enabled by computer-mediated and Internet-enabled communication media.

In this Tech Central Station article, Arnold Kling agrees with Rheingold. He thinks that social software is likely to be the basis of what could be the next "killer app."

Kling says that with social software, the interaction is no longer between you and your computer, but between the groups you belong to and networks of computers.

In order to explain the issues, King studies three types of problems that this new kind of software might solve: the matching problem, the issue-resolution problem, and the classroom-management problem.

ACM TechNews wrote a good summary of Kling's story. Here are short excerpts.

The matching problem is solved today through gathering the largest possible list of matches and searching through them using key words or other technical criteria. More effective would be a system that creates likely matches through the personal recommendations of those with like interests.
The second problem for social software is the issue-resolution problem, where projects are slowed because expertise is not available immediately. In Afghanistan, impromptu military strikes were completed in just 20 minutes; in the 1991 Iraq war, such coordinated actions took up to three days. Software that can make many business managers throughout a company available without taking them from their primary responsibilities will help speed large corporate projects.
The final opportunity for social software lies in the classroom-management problem, where teachers need effective methods to gauge student understanding and instructional deficiencies.

Here is Kling's conclusion.

For many of the challenges of social software, some components appear to exist. We have some tools to filter recommendations. We have some tools to prioritize messages. We have some tools to provide and monitor feedback. However, we do not yet have the components sufficiently tuned and assembled into applications that solve the larger human problems. My guess is that at least one important innovation of the next decade will be a system that solves one or more of the problems that I have sketched out.

So, is social software hype or reality? Read all these articles and build your own opinion.

Sources: Jack Schofield, The Guardian, May 8, 2003; Howard Rheingold, Smart, May 8, 2003; Arnold Kling, Tech Central Station, April 21, 2003; ACM TechNews, Volume 5, Issue 492, May 7, 2003

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