"It’s the opposite of project-oriented collaboration tools that places people into groups. Social software supports the desire of individuals to be pulled into groups to achieve goals." According to Stowe Boyd.
I particularly liked this definition, having had my fair share of being forced to conform to the traditional ‘control and command’ structures enforced by groupware products such as Lotus Notes.
Stowe goes on to say…"Traditional software approaches the relationship of people to groups from a top-down fashion. In the corporate setting, its hard to imagine a person existing without being specifically assigned membership to top-down groups: your team, your division, the budget committee and so on.
Over time, more sophisticated social software will exploit second and third order information from such affiliations â€” friends of friends; digital reputation based on level of interaction, rating schemes and the like. And this new software will support David Weinberger’s notion of enabling groups to form and self-organize rather than have structure or organization imposed."
I fear the public sector – which is arguably the sector that can benefit most from use of social networking tools – is still a long way from grasping what all this means, and how it can enable it to better engage and interact with the citizens it is there to serve. No, from what I’ve seen, command and control structures reign supreme, and access to social software is strictly forbidden from within most central government departments (less so in local government). It will be interesting to see if the recent local government White Paper manages to change any attitudes!