The term has been around for more than a decade, though not always with the meaning that is now evolving (it seems to have first been used in the early 1990s as the name of a software company). In the last year or so it has become a buzzword; the topic was aired at the O’Reilly Emerging Technology Conference in Santa Clara at the end of April.
The idea is new enough that people are groping for a definition. Some use it as a term for any computer software that supports group communications across networks. In that sense, it encompasses chat rooms, mailing lists, online gaming communities, Usenet newsgroups, MOOs, weblogs (blogs), and more. Others would like to limit it to newer software in which the emphasis is on the community, not on the technology that makes it possible, and which is adaptable to the ways in which people want to interact rather than imposing a structure on them.
Proponents see possibilities in education, health, politics, and other areas. Some newspapers and media groups, such as the BBC, are keen to see the traditional one-way process of journalism become a dialogue and want to use the software to build communities. It’s as yet unclear what these systems will look like in practice — some critics worry there’s too much talk and not enough action — but the BBC has plans to roll out a package in October 2003.
The artist-engineer, tinkering with alternative human-machine interfaces, social software, digital aesthetics and more has effectively been operating in a self-imposed vacuum.
Afterimage, Sep.-Oct. 2002
In trial since early November, the service allows users to create a profile mapped to their postcode, and enter into discussions with people close to their location. It’s this element of location which has lifted UpMyStreet Conversations out of the old bulletin-board arena into the trendy new area of social software.
Guardian, 9 Jan. 2003
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