What is Social Software?

Software includes both computer operating systems and applications made to run on those operating systems. There are different categories of software applications, such as business software, games, utilities, security software, and social software. Also called collaborative software and originally described as groupware, social software includes programs that allow multiple people to input information into documents and projects over networks both remote and local. It can also refer to software that helps people communicate and stay in touch. These divisions are not clean, and a single type of software may, in fact, be used for a variety of purposes.

Lotus Notes is considered the first example of social software. The messaging and groupware program was introduced by IBM Lotus in 1989. While originally made for OS/2, it has been expanded to other operating systems, such as Windows, Mac, and UNIX.

Communicative software includes email programs, instant messaging, text chat as employed in chat rooms, videochatting, audiochatting, and forums. In these programs, the focal point is often an exchange of information and interaction, rather the production of a common object or collaboration in a project. Often, the exchange itself is the important element, and there is no need to save the communication after it has been read or heard. Collaborative social software includes office software — like word processing, presentation software, spreadsheets, and databases — that multiple people can work on. Software with commenting functions and sites to exchange the products of such software are other examples.

On the other hand, an email could have a document attached to which multiple people are contributing. Tweets on Twitter or posts on any social networking site could be part of a lengthy interchanges, as well as announcements that nobody ever reads or acknowledges or as part of a collaborative campaign to effect change. Photosharing sites and blogs, for example, are difficult to place in this schema. This is both because they often begin with a presentation that may or may not directly invite comment or interaction. Moreover, when material is posted with a Creative Commons license, there is an implied invitation to collaborate, even though the collaborators may never know each other, and the person who adapts another’s work may acknowledge it only through labeling the product, if required by the license, not through communication with the original contributor.