Social Software

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Clay Shirky:

= software designed for group interaction [1]


Very simple introduction by Sean FitzGerald


"Social software enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities."

More info:


Characteristics of Social Software

Social software has some or all of the following characteristics:

  • Easy content creation
  • Collaborative content creation
  • Ability to share content with others (often via RSS feeds)
  • Makes it easy to find other users with similar interests
  • Tools for forming online communities

From Mike Gotta at the Collaborative Thinking blog,

Social Software is "

. Designed to be recombinant

· Enables a collective user experience

· Augments informal interaction

· Aggregates information from community-influenced networks

· Spans work and lifestyle

Designed To Be Recombinant

Social software should be designed not only to be personalized or customized within a known design framework (as is most traditional enterprise software) but to also be extended and recombined with other software services to produce usage scenarios that are unforeseen by its original designers and contributors (e.g., mashups).

Enables A Collective User Experience

Social software should be designed for groups. That means a design point that is not so singularly about an individual user experience (a design-point common in transactional and pseudo-transactional applications) but around the group as an entity in and of itself (perhaps in mindset more similar to game design where group participation and immersive interfaces are core tenets). It should also endeavor to represent social context (e.g., natural interaction, visual cues). Finally, social software should support some level of peripheral vision. That is, a quick glance at “something” should allow users to maintain situational awareness of group activity or determine whether their attention should be diverted.

Augments Informal Interaction

Social software should emphasize and amplify informal interaction. This does not preclude intensive use of applications by users rather the design point is not to simulate traditional applications that are data-entry oriented, workflow-driven or overly-formal in regards to role, user status and privileges. Groups connected through social software are likely bonded by both strong and weak associations to many different topics with interaction characterized by varying levels of shared interest. Participation may ebb and flow for whatever reason so use of the social software is often non-deterministic. In this sense, social software provides cohesion between activity-based collaboration (e.g., more formal workspaces that are outcome-driven), communities (e.g., groups coming together coherently to share information and know-how around some interest or practice) and networks (loosely coupled connections between people based on a variety of interests, associations or relationships).

Aggregates Information from Community-influenced Networks

Social software should promote the exchange of perspectives (e.g., opinion, actual know-how) from community-influenced networks. Some community structures are formal and visible to an organization (e.g., a community of practice) but many remain invisible and are more socially-oriented and loosely coupled (e.g., personal networks, professional relationships). These silent networks are important to those within them but existence of these networks is often not publicly known and information from these exchanges is rarely captured or leveraged outside its participants (often due to privacy concerns). Social software should provide trust-based connection mechanisms that surface such associations and relationships.

Social software should also look at ways to aggregate metadata and information that is casually produced through informal interaction and community-influenced participation. There are plenty of ways for people to classify and share information on a formal and structured basis. There is no need for social software to implement a better taxonomy, document management, workflow management or e-mail system. Instead, the design should be complimentary to these systems, enabling a more natural capture and categorization of information on a mass basis. Community interaction and influence (whether explicit or inferred) should help determine how relationships and information are connected, organized and visualized (a more organic approach). This reinforces the focus of social software on the choreography that occurs within and across groups rather than on the specific types of tools being used.

Across Work and Lifestyle

Social software should presuppose that users will utilize an ensemble of devices that they themselves acquire as well as those that are provisioned to them by the enterprise. Social software should not be constrained only to online-to-online interaction but also facilitate offline engagement. Social software should not assume artificial boundaries around concepts of “workplace” (the domain of traditional enterprise software) as a design point. Those constraints should remain external parameters that could govern social software behavior. Social software should assume pervasive connectivity but also accommodate disconnected and/or offline usage scenarios. The point of considering work and lifestyle as attributes is to encourage thinking about social software as having a role in mediating face-to-face engagement as well as online interaction and to acknowledge the important role of devices, form factors and networking. In some social software use case scenarios, value might be derived from wearable computers that facilitate face-to-face personal gatherings. The focus should not always be on the Internet.


Examples of Social Software

  • Blogs & online journals - Blogger, LiveJournal
  • Social networking sites - MySpace, Yahoo 360
  • E-portfolios and Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) -
  • Wikis & collaborative writing tools - Wikispaces, Writely
  • Photo publishing & sharing - Flickr
  • Social bookmarks -, Furl
  • Podcasting - Odeo
  • Web-based RSS feed readers - Bloglines, Suprglu
  • Media hosting & publishing - OurMedia, The Internet Archive"


Examples of software for cooperation

The Shinkuro Collaborative Platform,

Shinkuro is a research and development company with a strong interest in information sharing across organizational boundaries. For a review at

See also Mobile Social Software


Embedding Participation through Social Protocols and Social Physics

"An example of research into social software is the following:

Social Protocols define a social group as a particular kind of social network, and consistent with our algorithmic notion of Social Physics, groups are treated as an emergent property of certain types of rules, e.g. Social Protocols. Social Protocols frame the following seven conditions for any social network:

1. Fine grained tagging of the types of content that can be shared;

2. Terms and conditions under which certain types of content can be shared/distributed;

3. Types of interaction between parties, specifically, "speech act combinations" (request, question, introduce);

4. Network roles of participants in interactions between the parties;

5. Rules for inclusion and exclusion.

6. Triggers for dynamic assignment and revocation of participation rights.

7. The behaviors and metrics parties can see about one another.

The premise is that social control is not simply the consequence of brute force and coercion, but rather that people have evolved elaborate forms of self-organizing social control through innate "social emotions" such as, "shame and fame", a sense of reciprocity, affiliation, and peer based reputation. Hence, self-organization and social control can be scaled for large distributed networks of strangers and familiars through Social Protocols enable selective visibility for social signaling." (

Evolution of Social Software

The following blog entry in Centrality Journal about the evolution of Social Software, distinguishes three periods, culminating in Software 3.0, in which social software is becoming goal-oriented.


"Social Networks 1.0 were built during the late 1990s to enable the initial set of consumer services that created such excitement about the promise of the web. Services like eGroups/OneList, ICQ, Evite and many many more relied upon groups of users organizing and communicating on the web through coordinated networks. Those networks were not explicitly described as such but they were the underpinnings of these communications platforms.

Social Networks 2.0 began in the early 2000s when entrepreneurs got to thinking about the nature of their online networks and the power that could come of making those networks explicit. Services like Friendster, Tribe, Orkut, LinkedIn, Spoke emerged to allow users to organize their recreational and business networks. The focus of those services as they were first built was to enable the creation, growth and management of an explicit social network. In other words, the consumer experience of Social Networks 2.0 was around the creation and discovery of the network itself, rather than a particular use of that network.

I believe that we are now in Social Networks 3.0. After a fair bit of excitement and energy around pure play social networks, it became clear that the building and management of a social network was not, in and of itself, a compelling consumer experience. In a nod back to the earliest instantiations of social networking, entrepreneurs have come to realize that social networks are enablers of other compelling consumer experiences. Thus, social networks are becoming an important ingredient of all sorts of consumer experiences. Social networks inform the conversations that take place among friends on LiveJournal. Social networks enable the discovery of new music on MySpace. Social networks enhance the multi-player gaming experience at Xfire. Social networks now empower recruiting on LinkedIn. And dozens of new social networks are emerging to enable specific, valuable consumer experiences that are enhanced by the underpinnings of the network."

People-centric Design Criteria


"design criteria for people-centric software:

  • Collective user experience
  • Informal, serendipitous interactions
  • Group and network connectivity via attention data
  • Self-organizing participation
  • Network-influenced findability
  • Community-determined credibility
  • Spaces that become places
  • Multiple personas
  • Recombinant
  • Intrinsic to lifestyle"


More Information

  1. The history of social software and related earlier concepts (groupware, etc..) is narrated in this excellent overview, at
  2. See also: Social Networks
  3. List of social software,