No Social Software Is Not Just About People

October 17 2011 12:00:00 PM Add/Read Comments [12]
Everywhere I turn vendors and analysts are writing about how "social is all about people." We're being inundated with marketing hype around people-centric computing and slogans like people are the platform. I respectfully disagree.

Yes, people are extremely important. However, if social were all about people we'd just be creating phone books, community directories or at best... dating sites. For social software to provide business value, these "people" need to be sharing something. That "something" can range from a simple status update to documents being co-authored in real time. Now don't worry, I'm not going to go rehash the knowledge management mantra of "content is king" that was popularized a decade ago. Content alone is just as ineffective as people alone. Without people interacting with the content, pages or documents just become static, out of date knowledge bases.

So if I don't think people or content are the key to social software, what is? Simple, actions.

The true value in social software comes from the new generation of "social actions" (sometimes called gestures, but I don't like that term) which bind together people and content. Decade old actions such as send, reply and forward are being replaced by more collaborative actions such post, follow, comment, share, like and tag.

Image:No Social Software Is Not Just About People
The new vocabulary of social software: post, follow, friend, like, favourite, +1, share, reshare, comment, watch, tag, circle, list

Consumer social networks and web sites have paved the way, indoctrinating us with new terminology and a new set of icons.
Image:No Social Software Is Not Just About People

These new social-actions enable content creators to see what information people find the most valuable and appropriately adjust what they post. Authors can now learn who is viewing what they create, connect with those people and form communities. Readers can show approval or provide their opinions in open discussions, redistribute content to extended audiences and discover others with similar interests. Tagging pages (or even people in photos) makes it easy to group together similar information. The list goes on and on.

The next step is introducing these social-actions as core functions of the business systems we use everyday to get work done. Imagine being able to perform the actions mentioned above on CRM data, support tickets, feature requests, marketing material or supply chain information just as easily as you do on a photo shared on your favourite social network. Imagine being able to easily learn about all the people involved in these critical business processes; who they are, what they do, who they know, what content they have created and what they are working on right now. That's just what the bridging of content-centric and people-centric computing enables.

So yes, people are important and content is important. But the actions that bridge the two are what enable us to derive the true benefits of social software. As the industry continues to struggle with terms like E2.0, social software, enterprise collaboration or social business perhaps action-centric computing provides a more accurate description.

What do you think?