Social software

The Guardian: Social climbers [via Scripting News]

The author,Jack Schofield, makes an important statement at the end of the piece: “But my bet would be that the most important social software isn’t going to develop out of blogging anyway: it will come from instant messaging.”

To this, I say – “yes and no”. I think that SMS, and its online cousin IM, will make a massive impact as a form of social software, if you only look at it in terms of uptake, and not in terms of purpose. IM and SMS are both conversational mediums, they are transitory. They are also centric around two people communicating one-on-one.

Blogs on the other hand take a longer view of the conversation. And, most importantly, the conversations are public. One of the things that I think is sadly lacking in society at the moment is broad public discourse on many issues that affect us, particularly political issues. Blogs can just be an extended personal conversation, to a few select friends for example. But they have the potential to be a lot more, and this is something that I don’t think that IM or SMS will ever achieve.

Two simple examples are searchability and (at least semi-) permanance. I remember being shocked to find my blog appear in the top ten results of a Google search on “Apple Powerbook August Release” (don’t try it now, no longer in the top ten) just before Apple announced the new Powerbook models. And I increasingly find I refer to my own and other blogs to recover information that I have posted or read at a later date when it is regains its relevence. IM and SMS do not support either of these features.

This is not to discount the importance of IM and SMS to the social communication (and by extension the social software) debate. They are incredibly important, particularly because of their uptake, and the power that mass uptake can have on changing social dynamics. But if you look beyond one-to-one communication technologies, weblogs and other such software are a very interesting phenomena. I’m not sure how big an impact they’re likely to have, but interesting nonetheless.

What I find most interesting is how they have gained popularity with people that wish to extend beyond the shortcomings of discussion groups and mailing lists. But blogs have some limitations in and of themselves, which leads me to believe that blogs are an important addition to the media/internet communication landscape, rather than the major revolution it is sometimes positioned as.