Wednesday, July 09, 2003

What Do You Call It?

Simon Phipps of Sun just beat up on the term "social software" because he said it's not new; "Computer-Supported Cooperative Work" is a conference that's been running for many years.

I disagree for a large number of reasons. First, I just hate the knee-jerk response of computer scientists to insist that there is never anything new. Sure, you can always stand up at the back of the room and claim that MULTICS supported that feature, whatever the speaker is actually talking about, but this comment is never useful. So what? MULTICS is long gone. This is just a destructive and rude form of social one-upmanship. (On the flip side, however, I also don't like it when work doesn't adequately cite previous work.)

But to the merits of the argument. One, CSCW is, primarily, a field of study, not a category of software. I'm a member of SIGGROUP; I read papers published at CSCW and SIGGROUP conferences, and I've got nothing against it. But it's a name of a field, not a kind of software. Two, CSCW is about, well, work. Social software is a much broader category. There's lots of social interactions that can't be captured just by work. Studying how computers can help people work together is fine, but it's not the entire world. Three, CSCW is a long and unwieldy name and "social software" sounds better.