Tracing the term social software

Quoting from the term social software (danah boyd), which I meant to post six months ago when it first appeared…

Christopher Allen does an excellent job of tracing the history of the term ‘social software’ – a resource for us all.

Of course, i still despise the term (sorry Clay) and its (ab)usage.

The term bothers me because the software is helping the hardware mediate between two people engaged in a social interaction. I’ve always loved ‘computer mediated communication’ (CMC) because it describes the action and then we can talk about CMC hardware/software and CMC behavior. In CMC, the focus is on the communication with the computer and its role as mediator being a description to the activity: communication. With social software, the adjective is describing our focus: software. I know that the term is used by technologists who build things instead of dealing with social interaction, communication or even hardware, but it still bothers me. I feel as though the term allows us to emphasize the technology instead of the behavior that it supports.

Its usage has grated me because folks use it as though a revolution has happened. We’ve been building software that can be labeled as social software for a long long long time. Why are we acting like giddy children who just found a new toy? Worse: it’s either far to inclusive or exclusive. Is SMS social software? What about MMORPGs? I guess retrospecticely, we’d call them that, but for the most part, we just focus on YASNS, blogging, wikis, social bookmarking and other recent developments.

Anyhow, it’s not like i have a better term. I tend to talk about social technologies or social media and i tend to use the term CMC. The problem is that CMC isn’t describing the new wave of behaviors which aren’t always about communication. Perhaps i need to use computer-mediated social interaction.

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