Silicon Valley is abuzz today with “social software”. The recent O’Reilly Emerging Technologies conference in Santa Clara devoted an entire track to how social software is playing an integral role in journalism, civic activism, publishing, education, global online communities, and vast gaming groups.
So, what exactly is “social software”? People in groups need to communicate and collaborate quickly and efficiently. On the Internet, a new generation of tools is in the making. These tools include Weblogs, blogs, wikis, chat and instant messaging (IM). This emerging class of software has become known as “social software” - helping people participate, publish, communicate and work as a team.
Weblogs, Blogs and Wikis
Weblogs, blogs and wikis embody conversation on a website.
Weblog: This is the easiest means for people to publish to a website. When organized like a diary, new entries appear in chronological order, so readers see new content first. Writers can update a page without design or coding skills. Weblogs vary in style, usage and design. Journalist weblogs or e-journals consist of writings, comments, and queries. Silicon Valley’s technology writer Dan Gillmor’s e-journal appears at http://weblog.siliconvalley.com/column/dangillmor. Community interest Weblogs include a popular forum Slashdot at http://slashdot.org. Weblogs have some similarities with wikis, in that they may stimulate community interaction, and allow reader feedback. Weblogs do not generally allow readers to modify existing text.
A great example of a Linux User Group’s Weblog is the Kolkata Linux User Group (LUG) website at http://www.ilug-cal.org. The Kolkata LUG uses its Weblog to share information on meetings, events, articles, latest list messages, minutes and polls.
Blogs: These are usually personal Weblogs. Personal Weblogs can include personal thoughts, observations, replies to queries, and travels. A good example is Miguel de Icaza’s blog at http://primates.ximian.com/~miguel/activity-log.php.
Wiki: Ward Cunningham invented the wiki. A wiki (Hawaiian for “quick”) is an easy way for people to collaborate online on diverse topics. A wiki is a lightweight editable Web page. Users can write, edit and cross-reference these wikis. It allows one to edit a collaborative Web page right in the browser. Wikis usually allow users to edit articles on a website. The base Wiki software is at http://c2.com/cgi/wiki. Wikipedia (http://www.wikipedia.org) demonstrates the power of the Wiki idea to generate high-quality content collaboratively. A living encyclopedia, Wikipedia covers a vast spectrum of subjects and has over 113,000 articles in English as well as over 40,000 articles in other languages.
Most Weblogs and wikis are based on open source tools such as Linux, Apache, MySQL, Perl or PHP.
The fundamentals of social software have been around since the early days of the Internet in the form of e-mail, mailing lists, and more recently in the form of chat rooms, instant messaging providing “instantaneous interaction” among participants, whereas Weblogs and wikis produce generally less spontaneous interaction but often offer more control and higher quality content.
Open source collaboration is one of the early success stories of the virtual world of social networking. Linus built Linux using an early version of this paradigm - mailing lists!
The democratizing progress of technology has lowered the barrier for mere mortals to communicate. Weblogs and wikis are the next steps in this progression. They facilitate social interaction among people online. This is yet another milestone in the evolution of the Internet’s role in virtualizing relationships between people.
Earlier, technological innovations such as telephones, airplanes and television dramatically reduced the size of the earth producing the well-known moniker “global village”. Weblogs and wikis, together with chat, IM, e-mail, further reduce the size of the global community, and also produce a “global virtual village”. Social software changes the nature of people’s communication. Today, a fundamental paradigm shift is in progress. But is this virtualization a boon or a curse? In India, organizations and groups ranging from technology user groups to social welfare NGOs can easily use social software to communicate, publish and share knowledge with their communities as well as promote regional, even global, outreach activities. On the other hand, violence and social ills, often depicted in online gaming, may lead to casual violence and increased crime in society.
New tools for the global virtual village are emerging in every corner of the world from Silicon Valley to Silicon India. The task is for all participants to use social software wisely!