Social software

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1 Introduction

1.1 Definition

  • Social computing refers to the use of social software, i.e. systems which support collective gathering, representation, processing and dissemination of information.
  • Social software (also called social networking software) enables social computing, i.e. it enables people to rendezvous, connect or collaborate through computer-mediated communication and to form online communities.

See also: other entries in the Social computing category, e.g. E-learning 2.0, Web 2.0, List of web 2.0 applications, Web widget and mashup, ...

1.2 More definitions

Social software = (tools + services + aggregation)^scale: “ Social software is not just about new applications. echnically, it can be described as a combination of various lightweight social tools within a growing ecosystem of online data and services, all joined together (aggregated) using common protocols, micro-formats and API (Application Programming Interface) methods. But it is also underpinned by some general principles about how to engage people as active participants in networks and communities to achieve new and exciting network effects5 through distributed collaboration, co-production and sharing in online social networks. Central to this is the idea of scale: the notion that the tools become more useful as more people use them.” (Lee Bryant, 2007: 10)

“ Social computing refers to the use of social software, a growing trend in ICT usage of tools that support social interaction and communication. Social computing is based on creating or recreating social conventions and social contexts online through the use of software and technology. Examples of social computing include the use of e-mail for maintaining social relationships, instant messaging for daily microcoordination at one's workplace, or weblogs as a community building tool.” (Wikipedia Social computing, retrieved 13:13, 14 September 2006 (MEST))

“ Social computing refers to systems which support the gathering, representation, processing and dissemination of social information, that is, information which is distributed across social collectivities such as teams, communities, organizations, cohorts and markets. Examples of systems which fall in this domain include collaborative filtering and recommender systems (e.g., firefly), online auction sites (e.g., ebay), and open source virtual communities (e.g., slashdot). The central hallmark of social computing is that it relies on the notion of social identity: that is, it is not just the data that matters, but who that data 'belongs to', and how the identity of the 'owner' of that data is related to other identities in the system. More generally, social computing systems are likely to contain components that support and represent social constructs such as identity, reputation, trust, accountability, presence, social roles, and ownership. (IBM Social Computing Group FAQ retrieved 19:04, 26 May 2006) ”

1.3 History

According to Christopher Allan in tracing the evolution of Social Software:

  • The idea can be traced back to Vannevar Bush's Memex (see Hypertext)
  • Licklider's 1960's ideas on networked computing are quite amazing predictions (see Networking history). Licklider is one of the founders of Internet.
  • Groupware of the 80s and 90s
  • Eric Drexler may have invented the word in the late eighties: “ Filtered vs. bare hypertext: A system that shows users all local links (no matter how numerous or irrelevant) is bare hypertext. A system that enables users to automatically display some links and hide others (based on user-selected criteria) is filtered hypertext. This implies support for what may be termed social software, including voting and evaluation schemes that provide criteria for later filtering.” (Drexler, 1995).
  • In 2002 the term social software came into more common usage, probably due to the efforts of Clay Shirky who organized a "Social Software Summit".
  • In 2005 it appears more frequently in the educational technology literature (e.g. Dalsgard, 2006 or Vuorikari, 2005). E.g. people start wondering whether we still need local monolithic systems like LMSs and whether social software is all we need to build a community of learning or a knowledge-building community.
  • Munro's map
    In 2007, there is a strong connection with e-learning 2.0 and personal learning environments (i.e. things associated with rich internet applications, web 2.0, etc. There is also a connection to the (older) virtual community topic since social software services can be considered to be some soft of virtual communities. Btw, Randall Munro's map of oneline communities, mostly lists various social software services. A bigger map of Rheingold defines social software as one of 8 components of technologies for cooperation.

2 Types of social software

In a way, any sort of computer-mediated communication (CMC) can be called social software since communication is inherently social, e.g. any sort of groupware (e.g. simple forums, project management software), educational web-services like LMSs, virtual environments, MMORPG-like games, an so forth. However, we prefer a more narrow definition of social software that includes applications that add an "extra touch" in the spirit of what some interpret as "web 2.0".

Social computing can be described in terms of social software types, for example:

  • Social syndication of contents and links
  • Social networking (professional, dating)
  • Citation indexes that, for a given publication, list citations (with links) and other publications within which it is cited. In addition, there can be metrics.

Some interesting issues related to social computing are:

On the technical side
On the conceptual side

Social software and social computing is certainly a muddy term and it's not easy to provide an overview or more importantly to tell what should not belong to this category. Here is a picture found in Vuorikari's (2007) (unknown copyright) and taken from Mark van Harmelen's blog (May 2007).

The Many Forms of Social Computing

This table is not realy complete, ie. it misses all forms of on-line virtual environments like computer games or virtual habitats, sharable webtops and more. But its an interesting picture since it shows current usage (in 2004/2005 ?).

Below is first attempt to list various kinds of social software. I certainly will have to go over this and separate types of Internet applications from various components (services) that can constitute such applications.

2.1 Sharing of links and feeds

Often such systems feature folksonomy tagging and sometimes tag clouds, i.e. a visual depiction of content tags used on a website.

  • Hybrid systems like NewsVine that allow to read, discuss and vote for news stories. Also allows to write article like in News engines à la slashdot.
  • User powered content like Digg. Everything is submitted and voted on by the digg community. An other example is 43 things that discover what people think to be important to them (look at the education category, i.e. what people would like to learn).
  • Social navigation systems like Trailfire, that let's users build trails of web resources and share them

2.2 Sharing of digital artifacts

Such applications are not just indexed uploads/downloads (e.g. like in more traditional portals). There are also tagging mechanisms.

  • Web page archiving / bookmarking like Furl
  • File hosting and sharing like 4shared

2.3 Social citations and reference managers

This is huge and fast growing area of use to researchers.


2.4 Social shopping

Such systems include reviews, recommendation systems (including social navigation elements) and can include reputation systems

  • Amazon, various add-ons like reviews, X who bought A also bought, Person X has a good rating and webservices you can integrate with your applications ...
  • Kadboodle
  • Epinions (reviews and ratings)
  • allows to compare book prices with an ISBN number. This is not really social software, but we include it here since books remain imporant ;)

2.5 Social network construction and maintenance

There are many initiatives to create social networking software. Note however, that many other social software services may implement "social relations" features. These websites usually specialize either on some kind of relations (professional, interests, dating, ..) or on media-rich web sites embedded in "friends" networks. There also exist associated social network search engines.

Some examples of focused social networking software
Some examples of general purpose social networking services

See the social networking article for more details and examples

Services to build your own

See social networking

Software to build your own

See Wikipedia's Social network hosting service for a larger list.

Portalware to do it yourself

There are many kinds, e.g. more specific focus on either content, artifacts or people and groups

2.6 Building social applications

API's for building custom social applications or gadgets that can then be integrated in Portalware social networking sites and services are available for those who wish to create their own social applications.

Social applications function by retrieving and sharing 3 principle types of information:

  • connections between people
  • data stored for use at a later time
  • activities of users
  • Tent Quote: Tent is a protocol for open, decentralized social networking. Tent users share content with apps and each other. Anyone can run a Tent server, or write an app or alternative server implementation that uses the Tent protocol. Users can take their content and relationships with them when they change or move servers. Tent supports extensible data types so developers can create new kinds of interaction. Retrieved oct 30 2012.
  • Facebook Application platform
  • Open Social platform. Quote: OpenSocial helps these sites share their social data with the web. Applications that use the OpenSocial APIs can be embedded within a social network itself, or access a site's social data from anywhere on the web. Retrieved oct 30 2012.
  • developed an opensource Open Collaboration Services (OCS API)

You will also inevitably need a host that supports the API upon which your application is built (i.e. a container). Sites such as iGoogle and orkut provide sandbox areas to test your applications. Facebook offers test environments for developers.

2.7 Groupware

Groupware helps to coordinate work within a well defined community. Groupware may be called "Social groupware" if it's open to peripheral participants, but also if it includes features found in typicial social software, e.g. individual writing, collective exchange, self-organizing of information, etc. (not sure about this - Daniel K. Schneider). Examples:

2.8 Reputations systems

According to Wikipedia, a reputation system is a type of collaborative filtering algorithm which attempts to determine ratings for a collection of entities, given a collection of opinions that those entities hold about each other. This is similar to a recommendation system, but with the purpose of entities recommending each other, rather than some external set of entities (such as books, movies, or music).

Reputation systems can used in conjunction with other systems. See also Rating, trust and reputation

2.9 Collaborative filtering

According to Wikipedia, Collaborative filtering (CF) is the method of making automatic predictions (filtering) about the interests of a user by collecting taste information from many users (collaborating). The underlying assumption of CF approach is that: Those who agreed in the past tend to agree again in the future. For example, a collaborative filtering or recommendation system for music tastes could make predictions about which music a user should like given a partial list of that user's tastes (likes or dislikes). Note that these predictions are specific to the user, but use information gleaned from many users.

2.10 Blogspheres

2.11 Large Wikis

Projects like [Wikipedia] that involve a few hundreds of people, that have features to categorize information etc. could be considered (to be discussed).

Note: (DSchneider doesn't consider this wiki to be social software since there are not enough participants. It's more like a cognitive tool for the authors of articles and for our users it's more like a tool for finding definitions and links. Sometimes, it may evolve into a simple form of cognitive flexibility hypertext).

2.12 Integrated systems / Web 2.0 places

Given technical progress in the area of web services and service-oriented architectures, one can imagine systems that syndicate all your favorite social software services into a single environment. There are several technical alternatives:

  • Light-weight webtops (also called "web 2.0 startpages") that allow a user to create a syndication space for various services like RSS feeds, WebMail, On-line writing tools etc. These startpages then have the potential to become desktops for the "virtual office 2.0"
  • Portalware that can be installed by institutions and that provide similar functionality (but also include services themselves, like weblogs). ELGG is a good example
  • Future learning environments
  • Virtual office 2.0
Examples of "web 2.0" start pages
  • See webtop article for a list of systems. Right now the best contender seems to be Pageflakes since one can share pages. (May 2007).
  • eyeOS (This system may be interesting to educational institutions, since you can download your own server and customize)
Examples of integrator portalware
  • - social network software supports a number of open standards including RSS, LDAP, FOAF, and XML-RPC
  • LiveJournal - online-blog-plattform with community-building fonctionnalities
Examples of future learning environments

3 Social software in education

this section is rather weak ... needs work

See also

3.1 To enhance social presence

  • Social networking according to interests, e.g. like in FOAF could allow students to find fellows with similar interests and get engaged different sorts of informal (and later formal) collaboration.

In fact, many social software applications can support activities of a virtual community and therefore scaffold a community of learning or a knowledge-building community.

3.2 Links sharing and social navigation

See entries like social bookmarking and social navigation for the technology

With systems that bookmark and make a saveguard copy like Furl:

“ Sharing personally classified bookmarks among teachers and with other learners to cover a study area. Collaborative filtering and social navigation facilitates new discoveries. Teachers and librarians can already create pre-selected and tagged lists of resources for learners to browse, and be sure that they are found again, as a copy is saved by the system. Bookmarks based on a tag can be aggregated and posted through Web-feeds to learners' and other teachers' blogs or websites focusing in a given area. Commenting and rating on bookmarked urls can be used for recommending as well as for helping decisionmaking and critical thinking.” (Vuorikari, 2005: 6)

With systems like “ Collaborative collection of links tagged with keywords is facilitated, and they can all be browsed and viewed at once (social navigation) or distributed through Web-feeds. Also, creating related tags is easy, giving more leverage for more elaborated categories.” (Vuorikari, 2005: 6)

3.3 To share resources

  • Applications like Flickr: “ Learners can share images that they have created or integrate in their works (photos, image manipulation, maps,..) to be used in different learning situations from authentic geography to art lessons. Social networks can be built around images through connecting learners, tutors and teachers together via shared tags. Pictures can constitute an important network of distributed repositories for images.”(Vuorikari, 2005: 6)

3.4 Collective writing

Blogs and blogspheres are "light-weight" technology of interest to several kinds of educational scenarios.

  • Blog search engines like Technorati can be used to track blog postings on certain tags. It also shows who is linking to an entry allowing to follow the whole distributed discussion that happens in the whole blogsphere.
  • RSS aggregators like RSS4You allow teachers or students to prepare and share favorite RSS feeds.

3.5 As learning environment design

The idea is to center the environment around each learner's information and communication space, sort of an extension of the learning e-portfolio concept.


As an alternative to "heavy and not flexible" Learning management systems, new providers may offer "light weight" services that individual teachers could used for the classroom or blended teaching. There are examples that somewhat push into this direction:

Personal learning environments
e-learning 2.0

Of course, since there is web 2.0, office 2.0 etc. there also is e-learning 2.0 :)

4 Problems and dangers of social software

  • An other concern is links and relations overflow. Even if most social software does include voting and reputation mechanism where appropriate, it is not sure that one can find information. Information is not just links to information and even just links between information. Even for very small place like this wiki information organization is not an easy problem - Daniel K. Schneider 14:40, 2 March 2007 (MET)

5 Links

5.1 Introductions and news

5.2 Web Sites, blogs, etc.

  • GroupLens, a research lab in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota (includes publications, a blog, etc.)

5.3 Software indexes

See also other categories of rich internet applications, .e.g. virtual office and web widget. I don't know where to centralize :( - Daniel K. Schneider

6 References

  • Anderson, T. (2005). Distance learning – social software's killer ap? ODLAA 2005 Conference. PDF
  • Anderson, T. (2005). Educational Social Overlay Networks. HTML
  • Allen, C. 2004. Tracing the evolution of social software. HTML, retrieved 18:37, 20 October 2006 (MEST). (This is a very good history)
  • Dalsgaard, Christian (2006).Social software: E-learning beyond learning management systems, European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning. HTML
  • Drexler, Eric K. (1995) Hypertext Publishing and the Evolution of Knowledge, Social Intelligence, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp.87-120. HTML Reprint (originally submitted to Hypertext 87).
  • Mejinas Ulises (2006), Teaching Social Software with Social Software, Innovate, 2(5) HTML PDF (open access with a login).
  • Mejias, U. A. 2005. A nomad's guide to learning and social software. The Knowledge Tree 7. HTML
  • Mejias, U. A. (2007) .Networked Proximity: ICTs and the Mediation of Nearness, PHD Dissertation, Teachers College, Columbia University, Abstract - PDF (interesting reading for philosophical and sociological background)
  • Nagele, Chris, Social Networks Report, Wilbit, PDF, retrieved 19:08, 14 September 2006 (MEST).
  • Roush, Wade, (2005), Social Machines - Computing means connecting. Technology Review, MIT. HTML
  • Suter, V., B. Alexander, and P. Kaplan. 2005. Social software and the future of conferences—Right now. EDUCAUSE Review 40 (1): 46–59. HTML
  • Vuorikari, Riina (2005), Social networking software and e-portfolios foster digitallearning networks, Special Insight Reports, European Schoolnet. HTML
  • Vuorikari, Riina (2005), Innovation Brief: Can personal digital knowledge artefact's managment and social networks enhance learning ? PDF
  • Vuorikari, Riina (2007). Folksonomies, social bookmarking and tagging: the tate-of-the-art, Special Insight Reports, Abstract/PDF. Recommended reading.
Print books
  • Bozarth, Jane (2010). Social Media for Trainers: Techniques for Enhancing and Extending Learning, Pfeiffer. ISBN 0470631066
  • Anderson, Terry (2006), Teaching a Distance education course using educational social software, Vritual Canuck, Blog Entry, HTML. This is interesting reading since it addresses both technical and educational questions. There are also links to course outlines and used portals.
  • Regarding the interest of social software for education you could start with a piece from Riina Vuorikari.
  • Allen, C. 2004. Tracing the evolution of social software. HTML, retrieved 18:38, 20 October 2006 (MEST). (This is a very good history)
  • Brynt, Lee (2007). Emerging trends in social software for education. in The Becta review 2007, Emerging technologies for learning, download page
  • Downes, Stephen (2006). Learning Networks and Connective Knowledge, Instructional Technology Forum, HTML. This is a really nice position paper (with a lot of links) that demonstrates where social software could "fit in".
  • Fitzgerald, Sean and Leigh Blackall (2007). Knowledge Sharing with Distributed Networking Tools, Networks September 12-14 Mini-online Event - Cool Results: Engaging Clients in E-learning. HTML. Good overview on social software with example.
  • Stephens, Michael, Web 2.0 and Libraries: Best Practices for Social Software Abstract (available as print book).