My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research, a Research Assistant Professor in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and a Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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what is “social software”?

“A lot of programmers, seem to me to think that the whole point of social software is to replace the social with software. Which is not really what you want to do, right? Social Software should exist to empower us to be human… to interact… in all the normal ways that humans do.” — Jimmy Wales

Clarification: Sorry for the earlier version without the full context – i didn’t realize how badly it would read. I didn’t mean to suggest that Jimmy thought that social software should be about replacing the social with the software, but that he was criticizing what had emerged with the techno-centric development of tools meant to help with socialization in the last couple of years. I’m soo sorry for implying anything else (and thanks to the wonderful commenters for making me realize that i boobooed).

Anyone who wants to hear the full audio of Jimmy’s talk should check it out here

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17 comments to what is “social software”?

  • Where does that quote come from?

  • Heh.

    I would have thought that replacing the unsocialable with software would be the point.

    ;-)

  • Liz

    Every talk I give on this topic, I make a point of saying that social software is not about replacing social interaction, it’s about augmenting, extending, and enhancing it.

    I find it depressing that Jimmy Wales is espousing that view.

  • joe

    Actually, that’s not what he said… what he said is:

    “I think, partly because of the personality types who become programmers… I don’t know what it is exactly… a lot of programmers, seem to me to think that the whole point of social software is to replace the social with the software. Which is not really what you want to do, right? Social Software should exist to empower us to be human… to interact… in all the normal ways that humans do.”

    I have an mp3 of the talk and such up here: http://josephhall.org/nqb2/index.php/2005/11/03/jimbo

    Danah, you should correct this post…

  • Yeah, this is a misquote. Not that I was there.

    Jimmy stopped by earlier in the week at Socialtext for a conversation with our team and said just about the same thing as Joe’s excerpt.

  • Programmer’s Definition of Social Software

    Jimmy Wales: “I think, partly because of the personality types who become programmers… I don’t know what it is exactly… a lot of programmers, seem to me to think that the whole point of social software is to replace the…

  • if software uses the very “socialness” of people (and their tendency to waste lots of time doing repetitive tasks for fun) as a way to solve problems software by itself can’t solve just yet, does that qualify as social software? (i am talking about http://www.espgame.org and the like).

  • Liz

    That’s a pretty serious out-of-context misrepresentation; by removing the surrounding text, it really puts Jimmy in a poor light. And since many people will read this post via an aggregator they won’t see the clarification unless you update the post itself.

  • “The whole point of social software …

    … is to replace the social with software” — Jimmy Wales (meant as a criticism, of course) (found via many-to-many) The whole point of social software is … … to build a semantic machine that feeds back the random…

  • but the quote in its isolated form is much more to think about, when you get over the comic-strip-geek associations. link to the classical essay from Joel,
    “building”>“building”>http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/BuildingCommunitieswithSo.html”>”building communities by software —
    and then to foucault
    http://foucault.info/documents/foucault.authorFunction.en.html

  • sarah bluehouse

    Laurie Anderson’s observation is that “technology today is the campfire around which we tell our stories.

    I would believe this to be more true… and some are only able to tell those stories with flashlights under thier chins. In daylight, in “real” interaction, they aren’t more than human… and this internet campfire, gives us a dose of the superhuman, as we turn on the flashlights, take the spotlight, and say what the sun has never seen.

    As for it is a replacement or an augmentor… if you are already social.. it augments.. if you aren’t it most definately pacifies — it gives you something to suck on, to replace a need to not feel alone in the world.

    I remember back in the day, I was pretty adicted to this internet thing… and I was listening to right wing radio at the time, where they were going on and on about internet addiction didn’t happen… and so I called in, and they said that there was no such thing, and at that moment I knew how far outside thier realms of experience I was… because for whatever reason, they could interact with their world, and there was all this cotton in my mouth.

  • OMG – i’m so sorry and thank you for the feedback in the comments – i didn’t realize how badly this would be misinterpreted out of context. I pulled out the “programmers think” part because i was thinking of it as redundant, not because i wanted to rail on Jimmy – i was trying to get at the fact that he made a funny. By and large (much to Clay’s chagrin), that term refers to a set of software that was built in the last few years from a programmer’s mindset. It is not a universal term and the array of folks interested in sociable technologies use so many different terms. I was thinking of this quote in the same way that i think of “autistic social software” – it is not that social software couldn’t or shouldn’t be actually about the social, but that the actual development has been about the software because it comes from a programmer’s mindset. Thus, i pulled out the part where i heard him laughing at the creation of the evolution of “social software” as a framework for discussing new software bent on helping people be social in absurdly awkward ways. It was not meant to be prescriptive, but mockingly descriptive. I didn’t realize how weird it must’ve sounded until i read the comments, so *thank you* and i’m soooo sorry.

  • http://www.abstractdynamics.org/linkage/archives/006760.html

    “A lot of programmers, seem to me to think that the whole point of social software is to replace the social with software. Which is not really what you want to do, right? Social Software should exist to empower us…

  • LOL! That is soooo funny… and true, IMHO. I have seen that played out in many places.

    Yes, the technology is easy, but the sociology is damn difficult!

  • “Software that gets its users laid”. That’s actually more insightfull than meets the eye. The industry’s complete overlook of this simple notion precisely describes the reason why social software fails to amaze or excite me: no new relation resulting from its use.

    For instance, as far as I’m concerned, Orkut, Multiply, Tribe and similar sites are a failure; lot of noise and no significant new contact. By contrast LinkedIn is the only one I find remotely usefull and enjoyable: it brought me interesting new contacts leading to further opportunities.

  • Hehe :) that’s funny, but near the truth ;-)

    dear Danah, i read your blog for a long time, keep a good work.

    regards Clivado

  • Techno-centric development of tools is in the past. Nowadays the technical part is used to serve the goal of making human being feel comfortable in the new world.

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