Do I know you?

What does “social software” mean to you?

Posted by Gia Lyons on April 17, 2008

During a spirited Twitter discussion today with the venerable Mike Gotta, he advised me to define what “social software” means in my previous post in order to provide context, and to come to “agreement on concepts, methods, practices” between vendors and customers so as to avoid a dead end discussion (by the way, Mike will be publishing a report about social software on April 22, which perhaps will aid we confused vendors and customers in defining same ;).

When I’ve asked my customers, spread across the Americas, what “social software” means, here’s the most common answer I get:

It’s wikis, blogs, and something like Facebook. Oh, and we need it to integrate with Windows SharePoint Services.

I get the same answer when I occasionally ask them to define “Web 2.0”, incidentally.

For me, social software is anything that makes user-generated content open to all by default, limited only by firewalls and the manual setting of access control by the participants. It allows for folks to add to that content, whether as comments, ratings, or edits. It should also make it easy to share that content with others, via notifications.

Here’s what Wikipedia contributors think it is.

So I ask you: how do YOU define “social software”? It’ll be interesting to compare our responses to Mike’s report next week.


14 Responses to “What does “social software” mean to you?”

  1. I don’t think I’ll get an amazing definition done in one shot, but I think of social software as playing two key roles;

    New connections
    New ways to connect with existing connections

    For example, learning about “friends of friends” or as you said in your twitter, people who are nice and knowledgeable enough to help.

    I think the “temporal” aspect is important too, i.e. the new way to relate w/ existing connections. It’s not like email w/ a burden of reply… @wjhuie is more a suggestion of interaction but nothing forced. Again, the temporal aspect plays a big part too.

    A third thing that pops in my head is that it’s a way of working your way to an “answer” w/o having to actively walk a given path, i.e. you can broadcast the problem and let the solver find you (potentially) vs. the more traditional method.

  2. balex said

    You know those professional conventions, like USENIX and IMPACT?
    Remember how you come back from the good ones with your head buzzing with new ideas, new contacts and more in-depth info on stuff you might’ve heard about but never really bothered to dig into?
    That’s social software.

    In fact, if the software’s designed, deployed and integrated well enough, it’s _exactly_ like that. You meet people, exchange views and discover information. It’s going beyond individual components such as blogs and wikis… and it must, I repeat, MUST allow for the dynamic, spontaneous forming of such “events” (read: communities).

    For example: a social bookmarking widget showing everything tagged “java” on a blog discussing java, where clicking on the author’s profile brings you to his _open_social_network_ of java developers… now rip out “java” and replace it with “SOA”, and you might as well call it “IMPACT”.

  3. Mike Gotta said

    The defnition and rationalization offered by Clay Shirky is the most appropriate framework I have come across – and is the one I use as my reference point with clients. It’s simple – software designed for group interaction. We can get fancy and add a lot of bells and whistles to it – but it comes back to this phrasing.

  4. Gia Lyons said

    Good stuff! I like, “It’s not like email w/ a burden of reply”…. With each software tool comes a set of cultural expectations that have emerged through its use. This lends to the subtle differences between group interaction software. There I go again, talking about how out-of-box usability dictates the most common use of the tool!

    “broadcast the problem and let the solver find you”… like the old ideagoras.

    Alex, yes. Yes. And nobody has yet created or implemented software that gets me the same results as those professional events, IBM included.

    Mike, I will have to respectfully disagree. Vendors are not defining what social software is – use of consumer sites like Facebook are. Vendors are late to this party. We are attempting to capture whatever that “new” way of working is, based on public sites, based on closed-door research, based on lessons learned from past group interaction software. How we implement what we learn… well…

    I do agree with your statement here: “For instance, much of the chatter around social networks reminds me of the KM holy grail of the late nineties. Vendor positioning of their software as social computing platforms reminds me of the over-hyped marketing of groupware and portals.” Please, don’t tell my manager. :)

    The problem I see, though, is that corporate decision makers have seen the “new age” of group interaction software, as it’s used on public sites like Facebook. Thus the common request for, “gimme something like Facebook for inside my organization.” They want to capitalize on the goodness before their competitors do. They don’t spend time examining much of anything, as you exhort in your blog post (I’m still reading through it). They have budget NOW, they’ve got to spend it before June or December. Pick a vendor and let’s get moving.

    Do I agree with this approach? Nope. I’d rather folks spend time to make an informed decision, based on impartial, non-vendor data (which is why you analysts have jobs, right? :) Because ultimately, if they DO buy my solution, I want them to use it successfully. I really do.

  5. Dale Innis said

    For me social software is any system where the connections between people are represented as first-class entities. So a traditional wiki or weblog isn’t social software, but twitter / facebook / etc are. There are always implicit connections between people; social software is the stuff that recognizes that those are important, and represents them explicitly in the system itself.

  6. Here’s my contribution. Social software is any technology that supports the creation of discourse communities. According to linguist John Swales, a discourse community:

    1. has a broadly agreed set of common public goals.
    2. has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members.
    3. uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback.
    4. utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
    5. in addition to owning genres, it has acquired some specific lexis.

  7. Jay said


    “4. utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims.
    5. in addition to owning genres, it has acquired some specific lexis.”

    What does this mean?

  8. Jon Mell said

    We define Social Software as software that helps build relationships. We contrast it (and Web 2.0 for that matter) with “Web 1.0” which was all about information.

    Might be overly simple but it has helped relay the concept to customers.


  9. Meng Yang said

    hi, Gia, I keep thinking that the question isn’t really about what social software is, but “what can it do for me?”.

    The social networking existed a long time before the word web2.0 was coined. Online communities, discussion forums, and bulletin boards, your instant messaging buddy list, etc. — were there to connect people together. And these current web2.0 tools just provide some new or maybe only somehow new ways to accomplish some similar goals, in my opinion.

    Since I have been thinking about the adoption issue, I have some new perspectives. We might want to focus more on what purposes the social software are, or how they can help people to do their work. Not in very general marketing terms, but more specifically on “benefits to my work”…

  10. You don’t know me. Yet. ;-)

    I was on your call this afternoon — great presentation! Nice to hear the drivers for people to participate rather than the old “capture your knowledge; you’re losing 80%” thing.

    Like thecapacity said, I think that the temporal aspect of social networks is very important… when I think about the future of social networking, I think one of the two bigs keys is presence.

    Something I wrote recently (in an email explaining why social networking was my passion):

    “Ten years ago the internet was about information distribution — how to get your message out to the greatest number people, period. Five years ago, we focused on *finding* information and culling useful information out of the millions of data streams. Today the internet is about matching the right people with the right information (via, for example, personalization). Tomorrow the internet will be about the delivering (and finding) the right information, to the right people, when they’re in the right place to use it.

    This includes, of course, extending social networking into a space/time dimension, which is one of the important contexts for relationships. Some sites (like Twitter) have begun to leverage this information, but they have not yet extended into the world of business and there’s a huge opportunity there.”

    IMHO, the other key is “social currency,” and by “social currency” I mean that it’s not just about how many people you know, it’s how valuable each of those relationships are in a given context. Knowing a wine distributor is not necessarily useful if you’re trying to build a house, but if you’re interested in throwing a really fabulous party, it’s a very meaningful relationship. The next question to be answered in this realm, then, is how to create, build and sustain *useful* networks. How do we categorize relationships, vette them and create trust in them while addressing people’s privacy concerns?

    This ties in to you comments this afternoon about the fact that people “get over” LinkedIn and stop friending “just anyone”.

  11. Jay,

    To answer your question when I think of a genre, it is a category of interest and might include sub-genres. For example, road racing would be a sub-category of cycling. And within cycling we would share a common language (lexis) that is unique to the group. For example, if I say that I’m more of a roleur than a mountain goat or specialist you’d know what I mean.

    To put it more simply a discourse community share a common knowledge, language, ideally trust and credibility as well as a common goal and methods of communication. When I think of social software it is any software that supports the creation and maintenance of these communities.

  12. Gia Lyons said

    Ah Gina, love this: “it’s how valuable each of those relationships are in a given context” – I think this is what Mike G. was saying at one point, but with more words. :) Also, you asked, “How do we categorize relationships, vette them and create trust in them while addressing people’s privacy concerns?” Today, I hold that information about my network under my scalp, and it’s the only place it resides.

    I’m a member of Angie’s List. I’ve often thought about what would happen if people inside an organization (I’m not talking about ‘the world’ here) could log into a site and search for people the way you can search for services (i.e., people who perform services) in Angie’s List. People post anonymous write-ups, good and bad, about all kinds of service providers. The providers show up in one or more categories. One can filter a search by a number of parameters, including “show me only those with a B+ or higher, with 3 or more write-ups, done in the last 6 months.”

    I realize that this probably wouldn’t fly inside an organization unless it’s HUGE, and I also realize that something like this exists in LinkedIn. But, I still think there’s something to learn about the Angie’s List model here… just haven’t figured it out yet.

  13. Jay said


    That makes more sense. People with common interests speaking a common language. As long as that language is English I’ll be OK.

    I’m guessing you’re a cyclist?


  14. […] “What is social software?” twitter fight […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: