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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  • http://www.carsonsystems.com Ryan Carson

    Hi Matt, thanks for commenting on my article. It’ll be interesting to see where things go.

  • Mathew Ingram

    Thanks Ryan — I agree it will be interesting to watch. I know I’m probably an edge case too, but then I also remember when everyone thought cellphones were a fad that would never catch on :-)

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  • http://Blogcritics.org Eric Berlin

    Mathew, I think you’re exactly right. I see “social software” as yet another milestone along a trail that includes e-mail and the web and more recently blogging and RSS. They start out as edge-cases but eventually become nearly ubiquitous to the online experience.

    RSS is a great example, I’d say. Signing up for a site’s feed via e-mail address (or RSSfwd.com, a great service) does *not* require knowledge of how RSS works or even what it is.

    Social software will (and in many ways is) just another part of how people communicate, interact, and share

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  • jason

    “RSS is a great example, I’d say. Signing up for a site’s feed via e-mail address (or RSSfwd.com, a great service) does *not* require knowledge of how RSS works or even what it is. ”

    i disagree eric, why would someone sign up for a site’s rss feed if they don’t know what rss is? that’s like saying every grocery store in america should start stocking pocky. it tastes great and surely people will buy it even though most don’t know what it is.

    a small percentage of internet users know what rss is and an even smaller percentage of those people use rss. the same goes for social networking. am i saying these things will go away? no. but to anyone who thinks these are shifts in how people will get things done (like the cell phone and internet), i say, “step back from the flames, you’re too close.”

  • Mathew Ingram

    A fair point, Jason — many of us have what my friend Stuart calls “bark marks” on our noses from being so close to the trees (not seeing the forest, etc.) and we find things such as RSS a lot easier to understand than the general Internet user. Just one question though: what the heck is pocky?

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  • http://peterdawson.typepad.com /pd

    Social s/w is driving the web2.0 fork in the community.. we saw this paradigm in BSD, Open BSD, various flaviods and distros !!

    Take for e.g Soical S/w in terms of Digg, FARK, NETSCAPE,– digg uses will never fark. fark users will never digg. each community is tightly meshed together. This behaviour will soon produce the “forking of the community” — like how the early MUDS of the 80′s -if you were not in one specific MUD, your were treated as an “outcast”. that was the reality of “social being” in the “digital world” !!

    Unless these ‘social clouds” bring about a heterogeneous stratosphere, will there be any benefit in the center.. just like a nokia phone can send and receive yahoo, gmail, hotmal !!

    right now I cant post onto digg with a fark account or vice versa.. segregation is societies worst nightmare.. social s/w is doing this in a very pervasive and silent manner

  • Mathew Ingram

    That’s a good point, Pete. I wish there was more interoperability between social networks, but everyone seems to want to create their own silo. Longer term, that’s not going to be beneficial for anyone — including those companies.

  • http://demo.blogtronix.net/BlogtronixDemo/ Dimitar Vesselinov

    I believe in facts. Myspace has 106,251,544 users.

  • jason

    mathew,

    “Just one question though: what the heck is pocky?”

    here you go – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pocky

  • Mathew Ingram

    Mmmm. Sounds delicious. See? If it wasn’t for social software, I never would have found out what pocky was :-)

  • http://www.teachingeverystudent.blogspot.com Karen Janowski

    Educators are using social software – blogs, wikis, podcasts, etc. with great results. Thses are the tools that our kids are using anyway so they engage students in a new way in the classroom. Picture a high school English class blogging their reviews of required summer reading or a high school Social Studies or Science class creating their own wiki about a topic as a study guide. The kids make it their own and own it in an innovative way. Our kids are digital natives so these tools are natural to them and the creative educators are capturing the power of the tools in their classrooms.

  • http://peterdawson.typepad.com /pd

    Karen

    FYI.. if you are interested

    Ewan and me had some back chatter on the training methods you describe. its well worth taking time to see his idea’s !!

    http://edu.blogs.com/

  • http://www.offertrax.com ron pruett

    Many of the businesses you mention are great, fun and useful tools but they miss one ingredient hampering their ultimate success – they don’t don’t enable “transactions”. They’re tools but not necessarily in a functional sense for merchants and others hoping to take advantage of their pools of users. The companies surviving the 99-01 era had this quality – the others are gone. The same will likely happen unless a transactional orbit can be created.

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