Darwin Magazine writes:
Social software is likely to come to mean the opposite of what groupware and other project- or organization-oriented collaboration tools were intended to be. Social software is based on supporting the desire of individuals to affiliate, their desire to be pulled into groups to achieve their personal goals. Contrast that with the groupware approach to things where people are placed into groups defined organizationally or functionally.
People sign up in the system (for example, by downloading an IM client and registering an ID there) and then they affiliate through personal choice and actions (I add you to my buddy list, and you decide to remove me from yours).
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 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.
Social software starts with individuals: People start with their own interests, biases and connections, and these become reflected in social relationships, from which a network of groups emerge from the interchange.
Lee Bryant has a more detailed article on social software: “This paper aims to provide an overview of what is being called social software or online social applications, tracing their roots in online community thinking and identifying some of their underlying features. It will also examine some of the emerging perspectives on social networks and online behaviour that might help us understand how to develop better online social applications, and it will suggest a methodology for creating meaningful online social applications around existing social networks and stakeholders.”