elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Thursday, 3 April 2003

social software - escape velocity?

Discussions about social software seem to be taking wing right now in the blogging world. From Andy’s discussion of gaming and CSCW to Matt Jones’ Webb’s wonderful collection and summary of current ideas and posts on social software, things are buzzing.

Matt follows up today with “More Social Software Rambling,” in which he says:

I like it when people say “I’m a tool guy”. That means we (equals me. I’m a paradigm person myself) can take what they do, extract the attributes that made it successful, and reuse elsewhere. Some people can just create social software without thinking about it, like some people are great interior designers, or great orators, great at articulating themselves. Leaving these qualities in the hands of the people who were born with them isn’t enough: that’s why we teach people how to structure an argument, how to make use of rhetoric, why people go on courses for presentation skills (“What do I do with my hands?”).

This relates nicely to a conversation I had today with a colleague about my social software graduate program ideas. He asked me if I envisioned the program as one that would turn out “researchers,” or one that would turn out “practitioners.” A reasonable question, given that my background is in information science and communications research. But my answer was unequivocal—practitioners. I want to turn out toolmakers. Our students are so well positioned to be the “tool guys” (and gals, I might add) that Matt wants to work with. But to be toolmakers in the world of social software will require that they understand the people and the contexts for which the tools will be developed. Just as the “paradigm guys” need to understand enough about the technology to be able to help architect solutions, the “tool guys” need to understand enough about the architectural context to build the right solution.

Last week, the day I heard from NSF, my co-PI walked into my office, grabbed my shoulders, and said “Can you feel it?” “What?” “This is it. This is one of those moments where everything changes.” She was right. But I’m feeling it more and more these days…the networked world is changing, and it’s going to have an impact on all of us. We’re right at the tipping point. Heading towards escape velocity. Can you feel it?

Posted at 4:32 PM in: social software

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Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna