Social software is not a fad

by Mathew on August 31, 2006 · 22 comments

Ryan Carson says he doesn’t have time to use all those social apps like del.icio.us and Flickr and Digg, although he thinks they are cool, and Phil Edwards says that he likes them too but sees the phenomenon as appealing to a relatively small niche of Web geeks — in his post, he says social software is like a reverse Tardis (the time machine in the cult sci-fi TV show Doctor Who), in that it is “much, much bigger on the outside than it is on the inside.” Nice line, Phil. I wish I had come up with that one.

It’s worth reading Ryan’s entire post, because at the end he surveys people like Tom Coates of Yahoo, Mike Davidson of Newsvine and Ted Rheingold of Dogster about what they think of social software and its significance. Predictably enough, Nick “The Prophet of Doom” Carr chimes in on the issue of whether social software is a fad, and says that such apps are a passing fancy — and that even if something useful remains after the fad passes, it will be “less than world-changing.”

My response would be that worlds change in small ways as well as large ones, and I think the social aspect of apps like Flickr and Digg means a lot more than any one of those software services does on its own. Do they take a lot of work? In some cases yes, although my use of del.icio.us is so ingrained into the way I browse that I don’t even notice it any more, thanks to a Firefox extension, and I couldn’t browse for long — or do my job as quickly or as effectively — if I didn’t have something like it. It’s debatable whether Digg or social bookmarking or any of the other social apps are standalone businesses (I would argue in most cases they are not), but what they represent is no less real.

I think that over time, social software features such as tagging, sharing, sorting and voting Digg-style will become more and more a part of all kinds of services, to the point where we hardly realize they are there. Will everyone use them? Unlikely. But I believe that most technology starts with “edge cases,” as Robert Scoble put it — including email, the Web and cellphones — and gradually moves towards the center. Stowe Boyd has some great thoughts on the necessity for and the payoff from social apps here, and Karl Martino says that we are all confused, and that the Web itself is a social app (I would agree).

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