What is social software?

Danny Bradbury has an excellent, if somewhat acerbic post on the definition of social software: Social software – where’s the fire?

In it, he’s reminding us that “viral marketing” isn’t something that just fell of the back of the truck last week. And that fads and instant hits have been around for some time. But his main point is: there’s no clarity right now around what is and what isn’t social software:

So is (as that same page suggests) the email mailing list an old-school form of social software? What about USENET, or the Cix BBS, or the WELL?

If all these things are social software (hint: they are), then we need to tighten the definition of social software/media by hooking it to something more concrete and less abstract, and if we can’t do that, we should stop promoting it as something new and exciting. And if email and old BBS systems aren’t social software by some new definition then we need to explain why they aren’t, which would amount to much the same thing. This isn’t just semantics. If something isn’t tightly defined enough it just splooges everywhere, conceptually speaking, and loses its impetus.

I responded in a comment to Danny, and thought it was too good to just leave on his site:

Really most excellent post. I love reading somewhat contrarian thoughts like these because they force us to re-examine our assumption and our jargon.

To me, social software is software that is used primarily for the purposes of communication and interaction. So yes, email counts. No, CRM doesn’t.

Often, but not always, social software is adopted by communities and individuals … as opposed to corporations and governments. So there’s a “democratizing” thing happening there. But I wouldn’t say that this is a hard and fast rule. There are blends coming out … BBC being a good example.

Agree? Disagree?

[tags] social software, blogs, wikis, podcasts, danny bradbury, BBS, john koetsier [/tags]