My working definition of social software…

05/08/2003

A while ago I wrote about a potential definition of social software based around Englebart’s theories of augmentation. Shortly before I went to ETCon I was talking about related issues with Will Davies of the iSociety and included (in my comments) a revised version of that definition, which I have since revised still further. So then, this is my current rough working definition of what it is I’m talking about when I’m talking about social software.

Social software is a particular sub-class of software-prosthesis that concerns itself with the augmentation of human social and / or collaborative abilities through structured mediation (this mediation may be distributed or centalised, top-down or bottom-up/emergent). Social software augments these abilities by:

  1. Removing the real-world limitations placed on social and / or collaborative behaviour by factors such as language, geography, background, financial status, etc;
    [This can also be seen as the basic aspiration of first-generation online discussion software as well as the gist of the world-changing hyperbolae of the press during the dot com years]
  2. Compensating for human inadequacies in processing, maintaining or developing social and / or collaborative mechanisms – in terms of information overload, generating appropriate filtering mechanisms, building in solutions to compensate for reptile-brain activity, developing structures that are immune to blame-culture, recrimination etc. This in particular can be seen as the replacement of the inherent limitations of geography (1 above) with mechanisms that generate parallel senses of ‘similar, different’, ‘near, far’ etc. This also includes feedback loops and the like;
    [Some of the more interesting work that people have been talking about already sits in this area – particularly Clay’s work on groups when he’s quoting Bion.]
  3. Creating environments or distributed tool-sets that pull useful end results out of human social and / or collaborative behaviour – for example, generating software that facilitates human creative processes in groups, structuring the process (or having the process emerge through apparently unrelated interactions) so as to have a distinct and productive end result;

That’s probably as close as I’ve got as of yet… Any thoughts?