A Little Less Conversation. The whole social software craze is already getting quite a lot of backlash. This article from the BBC reiterates points that many social software critics have, which is that the people working on social software think they’ve discovered something new, when it’s really just the latest version of work that’s been going on for ages. Worse, those designing and promoting social software are accused of ignoring all the lessons people learned before them about human-computer interaction and how computers really play into social interaction. I tend to agree that many people, when they start working on hyped trends, often ignore very important work that’s been done before – but that doesn’t mean the new work isn’t useful as well. Both sides seem to be taking an antagonistic viewpoint on this debate, which is becoming more and more a debate over the semantics of social software, rather than looking at how the software is actually being used. In the end, people will keep using what works, and won’t worry whether it’s officially “social software” or some other term.
What is different this time is that many of the tools being lumps into social software are actually easy for people to use. They allow someone to get up and going in a community without needing to understand just what is happening. Social software is different than knowledge management systems, although both try to solve similar problems. But KM software tends to be monolithic and top down, requiring the user to learn an arcane and non-intuitive viewpoint in order to use the software. Many of the tools from social software and simple enought to be eaily manipulated. The user can find the best one to use, the one that fits their own viewpoint. This is a big, but subtle, difference.