Social Software Makes It’s Way Towards Mass Culture

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As someone who’s more into the ‘fusion cuisine’ side of new communication tools and channels rather than the theoretical/cerebral analysis side, I tend not to spend an extraordinary amount of time in digesting long essays and white papers about new media or social networks.

Give me the executive summary every time.

That changed this morning.

I’ve just read an abstract of an essay about the significance of social software by Danah Boyd and posted on Corante Many 2 Many:

In this paper, I will explore the contributions of social software. I will argue that there have been notable technological advancements, but that their significance stems from the rapid iteration of development in ongoing tango with massive user participation. In other words, the advances of social software are neither cleanly social nor technological, but a product of both.

If I were to zero in on what I see as the key point in Danah’s essay – my personal executive summary, if you will – it is this phrase in the abstract:

Social software represents a new generation of social technology development – a generation that is dependent on moving beyond the laboratory and into mass culture.

I’ve always had a little difficulty in fully grasping the phrase ‘social software’ in order to explain it in the context of business and organizational communication. The Wikipedia definition starts thus: “Social software applications allow people to interact in virtual reality, connecting or collaborating by use of a computer network.”

Not especially helpful, although the examples Wikipedia gives are very good, ie, instant messaging, internet relay chat, forums, blogs, social networks (eg, LinkedIn) and social bookmarks (eg, del.icio.us).

What’s been missing is a more understandable definition and putting that and the examples into a context that helps you better see their real impact in human social behaviours which adds to your thinking on what this means to organizations and organizational communication.

Danah’s essay takes such a definition and examples and, provocatively, puts them into far better context. For instance:

Given the emergence of blogging over the last few years and the large audiences of many involved in the community of social software, this term and its definitional efforts have spread widely, much to the dismay – if not outrage – of some. The primary argument is that social software is simply a hyped term used by the blogosphere in order to make a phenomenon out of something that always was; there are no technological advances in social software – it’s just another term that encompasses “groupware,” “computer-mediated communication,” “social computing” and “sociable media.” Embedded in this complaint is an argument that social software is simply a political move to separate the technologists from the researchers and elevate one set of practices over another.

[…] While the term social software may be contested, it is undeniable that this community has created a resurgence of interest in a particular set of sociable technologies inciting everyone from the media to entrepreneurs, venture capitalists to academics to pay attention. What is questionable, and often the source of dismissal from researchers, is whether or not the social software community has contributed any innovations or intellectual progress.

It’s a terrific, thought-provoking article and worth time reading (and giving Danah some feedback).

Wikipedia entry for ‘fusion cuisine


Neville Hobson is the author of the popular NevilleHobson.com blog which focuses on business communication and technology.

Neville is currentlly the VP of New Marketing at Crayon. Visit Neville Hobson’s blog: NevilleHobson.com.

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