Is Social Software too Social?

31 Aug ’06

Nicholas Carr once again pokes a stick at the ‘sphere, this time commenting on whether the hype surrounding social software is overdone. I suspect that in response many of the usual evangelizers will say nay, and that there will be some gnashing of teeth, rolling of eyes, and of course the usual ad hominems. For my part, I think the piece nails it. Social software touches a fractionally small proportion of us, in part because it takes so much darn time to use; time that could otherwise be spent in the real world, socializing with flesh and blood. But also, while much of it is geekily interesting stuff, it doesn’t generally address the real world problems that most people care about. I spend at least as much time working with these tools as the next guy, and I’ve abandoned everything other than delicious (and I don’t use the social aspect of it at all) and Flickr – generally, they are simply not practical tools for getting stuff done.

My friend Mathew takes issue with this, but if I read him right he’s saying that social software isn’t entirely fringe and geeky any longer – possibly mostly, but probably not eternally. A lukewarm defense, as I read it, and I can’t help wondering whether he agrees more than he disagrees with Carr’s main point.

And as far as perspective is concerned, there’s just no question that social software has received disproportionate attention because so many of its evangelizers now have their own soapboxes – platforms from which they can regularly proclaim its importance, and that they use to promote their own expertise (how dull to be an expert in something unimportant). A few years ago, Red Herring, Fast Company, Business 2.0 and Wired were hyping the flavour of the moment – that torch has now passed.

Notably, Carr doesn’t call social software a fad – he describes it as being something between fancy and phenomenon; a “faddish phase”. I take that as a careful choice of language to describe something that is more notable for being in transition and largely experimental than currently useful. And my sense is that the experiment won’t be officially over until we figure out how to more efficiently integrate these new tools in our workflows, and make them more relevant to users beyond the fringe.

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