Social software is a category of communication tools that support and encourage social and collaborative behaviors. The term “social technology” is wrongly often taken as a synonym for social software. A technology is not just about the tools. It is also the body of knowledge that is required to create the tools. Social technology is a new way of designing information technology that draws knowledge from human and social sciences to leverage and extend our communication capabilities.
Since the dawn of man we have invented many physical tools that extend our physical capabilities. More recently we invented computing to extend our mental capabilities. Now we have also invented tools that extend our capabilities to communicate and socialize with each other. Thus social technology also represents a new approach to designing IT products and services.
Social technology makes it easy to have frequent, spontaneous and informal communication and interaction across time and space. People can socialize with each other, having a chat about what appears to be trivial stuff, even if they are not located near each other. They can get to know and develop relationships with new people without ever meeting them face-to-face. But social technology does much more than that. It also helps us overcome some of the constraints that exist in real life when it comes to communicating, interacting, and building relationships with other people. For example, in real life it is hard to have a face-to-face conversation with more than a handful of people at the same time without risking that the conversation gets out of hand. It is also hard for someone to join a conversation that has already started without interrupting the conversation and requiring a recap. With social technology, a lot more people can take part in a conversation without it becoming messy. Since the whole conversation is captured, people can jump in and out as they wish without missing out on anything. And when it comes to relationships, social technology can help us manage and maintain a much larger number of relationships than we can in real life.
Social media has inspired a new way of thinking. With that thinking we can design organizations and systems in a way that support and leverage collaborative human behaviors and makes better use of our collective intellectual and social capital. When an organization grows, the transaction costs of communication grows even more. Bad or insufficient communication causes lots of problems and makes it hard for a large and dispersed organization to be productive, innovative and responsive to change. If we use social principles and technology to redesign organizations, processes and ways of working from the ground up, we can reduce these transaction costs and thus also avoid a lot of inefficiencies of scale.