How we interact and form groups is coming in for close attention. One side of approaching the problem is by understanding how networks form, ideas about “six degrees of separation” and small worlds. Another approach, Clay Shirky writes, is to look at social software and the politics of groups.
Social software, software that supports group communications, includes everything from the simple CC: line in email to vast 3D game worlds like EverQuest, and it can be as undirected as a chat room, or as task-oriented as a wiki (a collaborative workspace). Because there are so many patterns of group interaction, social software is a much larger category than things like groupware or online communities — though it includes those things, not all group communication is business-focused or communal. One of the few commonalities in this big category is that social software is unique to the internet in a way that software for broadcast or personal communications are not.
The radical change [due to the Web] was de-coupling groups in space and time. To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the interent has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog.