81Re: [blogrollers] New social software blog
- Apr 25, 2003As I read this, I want to take the quotes off "new." It makes it read much plainer, and more accurately, less defensive.
No, of course there's nothing wrong about discussion of, even promotion of, ideas that aren't new. Good examples: safe sex, wearing seat belts, voting, taking your vitamins, those are just a few things that are not new that are worth promoting.
When people ask me if weblogs are new, I say they aren't. I often volunteer that. I feel it's important to set expectations. If I didn't the ideas wouldn't have a chance to be appreciated for what they are.
But I have watched with horror as good ideas have been promoted as panaceas by people who don't understand them. The first time it happened to something I cared about was with outliners when they were eclipsed by Personal Information Managers. Same idea. Different words. It would have worked out better for had the energy applied to a half-baked product been applied to the then-maturing category of outliners. But then, quickly, it was time to move on to another flash in the pan and then another and another.
My hope is that we're done with technology as a flash in the pan, as a way to make marketing hypesters rich at the expense of users waiting for an upgrade to a product that's never going to get upgraded.
Think about it -- how can you help what's already working -- instead of replacing it. It's a bad omen, imho, that Clay had a Social Software Summit and chose only a few people in the business to be present. I don't want Clay doing the choosing. I know he shrugs it off, but he is choosing who speaks about this Social Software thing. Better imho if the idea just fades away and let's stay focused on making our software better and having the stuff work better together.
----- Original Message -----
From: Elizabeth Lane Lawley
Sent: Friday, April 25, 2003 4:52 PM
Subject: Re: [blogrollers] New social software blog
Back on the laptop. Here's what I wrote while sitting through
interminable meetings today. Don't know yet how much of this will make
it out to either of the blogs. Still thinking. But thought I'd share it
with this smaller group.
Social software isn't a new thing. One could argue (correctly, I
think), that it's been around since the first e-mail message was sent.
Early adopters of network technologies were active participants in
"social" environments like Adventure, BITNET LISTSERVs, and CompuServer
CB Simulator. So why is there so much energy and excitement right now
in developer and academic communities about "social software"? Is it
just hype? (Dave Winer thinks so.) Or is it something more?
The fact that something's not "new" doesn't make it unworthy of
discussion and debate, however. Weblogs aren't "new," but there's lots
of talk about them right now. Intellectual property arguments and
conflicts aren't new, but nobody's arguing that Donna Wentworth's blog
is "just hype." Biotech isn't new, either. XML isn't new. Does that
mean that we should stop talking about them?
Ten years ago, when I was a doctoral student, my major area of interest
was "computer-mediated communication." In a lot of ways, what academics
(and developers) were calling CMC back in the '80s and '90s is the same
thing that we're calling social software today. But getting people to
take CMC seriously as both a medium for and a subject of research was a
challenge back then. Only in the past few years have we seen the
emergence of an academic journal focused on the topic. And finding
clear definitions of CMC is still a challenge.
So what's different now? A lot of things, I think. First of all, more
ubiquity in connectivity. The Internet is no longer a niche market,
primarily restricted to well-educated, technically sophisticated people
working in high-tech and academic environments. Second, fewer technical
barriers to adoption. For example, it used to be a serious challenge to
figure out how to create a BITNET LISTSERV for people who shared your
interests. It's far easier to create a Yahoo! group (which is why my
sons' cub scout pack has one for alerting parents to upcoming events).
Third, a new crop of researchers is coming of age in the
academy--people who recognize computer-mediated environments as a
"real" sociological and communicative environment (look at people like
Seb Paquet, Eszter Hargittai, Alex Halavais, Thomas Burg, and even me,
No, this isn't something "new." But it's still in need of a number of
things right now.
The first is a shared vocabulary. What are we _talking_ about when we
talk about social software? Are blogs "social," for example? Some are
really just publishing platforms (Dave Winer, for example, doesn't
provide any mechanisms for commenting or trackbacks on his blog--is it
really social? I'd argue not. Others are very social, with much of
their value coming from the discussions in the comments and the content
in the trackbacks (Shelley Powers comes to mind here--not that her
original content isn't key to the weblog, but it's enriched and
expanded by the social nature of her comments and trackbacks). Ross'
ecosystem of networks (posted earlier) provides for an interesting
discussion of various "modes" for blogs--and that's the kind of
valuable (to me, anyhow) analysis that these new conversations on
social software are yielding.
The second is a shared (and open) community of developers and
researchers. The SSA is a starting point for this, but already the
tensions are obvious. The researchers want definitions. The developers
want us to quit talking and start coding. What I'm hoping is that we'll
start to find a place in the middle that will help us both.
Lately, I've found myself regularly reminded of something that Howard
Rheingold wrote in his book _The Virtual Community_ back in 1993:
"Right now, all we have on the Net is folklore, like the Netiquette
that old-timers try to teach the flood of new arrivals, and debates
about freedom of expression versus nurturance of community. About two
dozen social scientists, working for several years, might produce
conclusions that would help inform these debates and furnish a basis of
validated observation for all the theories flying around. A science of
Net behavior is not going to reshape the way people behave online, but
knowledge of the dynamics of how people do behave is an important
social feedback loop to install if the Net is to be self-governing at
Here we are, a decade later, without much of that "social feedback
loop" in place. There's now an Association of Internet Researchers,
where a lot of interesting research is being talked about. And there's
certainly lots of exciting new software being developed. But there have
been huge gaps between the resesarch community and the development
community, and I think both sides are poorer for it.
What excites me about the budding SSA, and this new blog, is that both
seem to be moving towards more dialog in these areas. Both have
representation from both research and development, from the academy and
from industry. But all the participants have a history of working with
social technologies. Most were early adopters, many are innovators
and/or though tful critics in the field.
What's new is that these people are _talking_ to each other. (Not
always nicely, but that's still an improvement over silence.) Yes, we
need people to write code, build systems, think outside the box. But I
think we also need people to provide a feedback loop in that process.
It doesn't need to be--and _shouldn't_ be--an either/or situation.
Elizabeth Lane Lawley, Ph.D.
Asst. Professor - RIT/Info Tech
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