Networks, Complexity, and Relatedness
Inquiry and learning into social networks, organizational network analysis, and the relationships among people and systems in complex organizations and networks.

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Monday, February 15, 2010


I recently tweeted an observation of David Weinberger's on how our language has shifted:
Over the past decade, we’ve gone from talking about social circles to social networks. A circle draws a line around us. Networks draw lines among us.
I liked the way he phrased it, and I also note that it is the word social that connects the concepts because we are, at our core, social beings. The observation also begs the question about how those lines get drawn, and this leads me back to an inquiry I've been having for some time. The word social is now attached to so many concepts that it is hard to keep up with the proliferation of terms that are coopting it and putting it in different contexts. (Just as when I was young I had trouble parsing "ice cream social" because I didn't see "social" as a noun.)

Because I am called upon to give talks about, uh, social media and the like, I thought it best to take the time to do a very quick run-down of the terms and my sources for the definitions that I use. This is necessarily an incomplete list (see the word "proliferating" above). Here's my current take, divided into three pieces: technology, practice, analysis. First, social media.

Social media appears to be the term that is showing the most legs in terms of collective use with respect to the web-based digital technologies that shift focus from content to conversation, from publishing to interacting. Penny Hagen, who nicely ties together some of the definitional threads to provide A working definition of social media and why we couldn’t answer the question, captures thinking from Danah Boyd and Clay Shirky that suggests that social media is both about technology and the social habits that are being entrained by our use of it. So the media is not just the message (as per McLuhan) but it is the message and the messengers.


Social software becomes, therefore, the technology side of the definition of social media, and we use it when we refer specifically to software that enables and supports personal interaction. The personal interaction becomes social to the extent that there are named and identifiable people on each end (or in all the threads) of the transaction. These may be either tools, platforms, or social networking sites/services.

Social tools are the individual programs and products that use, either in concert or individually, for example, blogs and wikis.

Social software platforms consist of suites of social tools that are packaged as solutions aimed at one or more business segments. Jive, for example, is a collaboration platform designed with a social perspective. Ning is perhaps the largest open (free) platform available to groups of any size or inclination who want to form a community or to collaborate. Andrew McAfee
first used the phrase emergent social software platforms in his May 2006 definition of Enterprise 2.0. Its acronym, ESSP, is often taken as Enterprise Social Software Platform.

Note that existing software platforms that predate Web 2.0 can be socialized by the addition of social tools, but the design centers for these platforms remains unchanged (SharePoint, even SP10, remains designed around content management.)

Social computing. Dion Hinchcliffe, who is so talented at graphic representations of the relationships among concepts tackled social computing as the overarching and encompassing term for the mishmash of themes and terms. I don't want to contradict him, but merely point out that each of us has to resolve the distinctions for ourselves and that his model is a good starting point for anyone who wants to try to make sense of this (as I am now doing for myself and sharing it with the expectation that it may help others start to make their own sense of things).

Social networking sites are a special case of social platforms. To use Danah Boyd's definition, they are
"web?based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi?public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.
Andrew McAfee has similarly used the term social networking service to refer to these sites, which include Facebook, MySpace, and so on.

Social bookmarking lets people share the URLs of websites that they want to revisit and organize them in a way that is browsable by others.

Social tagging offers the ability to provide descriptors for information artifacts that can be used by others, including bookmarks.


These technologies are changing the way we work, the ways in which we grow relationships with other human beings, and the ways that we process, filter, and give context to information. These are the practices that are emerging that make us comfortable with, dependent on, and successful using social media. It is in this area that some of the more interesting new terms are sprouting. I say "interesting" because the terms themselves challenge us to think anew about who and how we -- and our enterprises -- are in the world.

Social Business is a term proposed to lead us to rethink how business is done:
An organization designed consciously around sociality and social tools, as a response to a changed world and the emergence of the social web. (Stowe Boyd)
(Stowe also acknowledges the need to disambiguate this use of the term with the use related to nonprofit businesses that address social objectives.)

Social architecture is the intentional use of social media in the design of how people work. For me, the term architecture implies design, as is evident in these definitions from two of my favorite people:

Social architecture is the conscious design of an environment that encourages certain social behavior leading towards some goal or set of goals. (Andrew Gent.)

Social architecture is a user experience oriented approach to the design and analysis of social tools. (Stowe Boyd)
Note there is no single architecture, but a sense that we can harness the extraordinary capabilities offered by social computing to change the ways we work and learn.

Speaking of learning, Social learning
[is] the development of knowledge, skills, and attitudes while connected to others (peers, mentors, experts) in an electronic surround of digital media, both real-time and asynchronous. (Harold Jarche).
Even as I include that definition, I feel that we must also acknowledge, via Jay Cross, that informal learning occurs by many means (especially face-to-face) that can't be controlled or programmed, but by its nature when the learning comes through exchange with other human beings, it is social learning. I have also blogged social learning at theappgap.

Social team (from Boris Pluskowski): a collection of individuals who have a common understanding of the "game they are playing" (i.e. the team's purpose); know in which goal they are trying to score (i.e. have a shared understanding of what a "win" looks like); and are collaborating together to achieve that aim. Boris is extending the concept of team using the concepts from Here Comes Everybody to illustrate the potential to tap the expertise, passion, and abilities of a large number of people to support a shared purpose.

Social Object:
...(in a nutshell) is the reason two people are talking to each other, as opposed to talking to somebody else.” (Hugh McLeod)
This notion brings us back down to earth in the sense that when we talk about what makes it possible for people to collaborate, we must understand that there is something shared between them, an artifact that prompts discourse or a shared emotion.

Note I tend to equate these social objects with a more scholarly term, boundary objects, most clearly explained by Lilia Efimova in writing about blogs as boundary objects.

Social capital. the stocks of social trust, norms and networks that people can draw upon to solve common problems. This is what we build, or can build, daily, by acknowledging others, through respectful collaboration in shared endeavors and in social media through retweets, comments, and references.


One of the things I have come to understand in my work in social network analysis is that being able to make sense of the connections -- the lines among us -- gives us access to questions and insights we might not otherwise have.

Social network. a collection of people who can be identified by a something that they have in common, a kinship, an interest, an organizational tie, a membership. What we see in social media are the networks of common interest implied by membership in a single social networking site (so Facebook represents a "network") but more rationally are any set of people who have a somewhat narrower set of criteria. I participate in many social networks on Facebook, don't you?

Social graph. The representation of the social network. As I like to say, if it's a network, you can draw it (or imagine it drawn), showing individual people and their connections.

Social network analysis comprises a set of methods and tools for collecting information about the graph of a social network and displaying that information visually and quantitatively.

Social analytics. The aggregation and correlation of the data collected from social software that reveals social structures and relations to assess interaction and conversation patterns. (See Mike Gotta for the basics and also for his thinking about how this is an emerging topic for 2010 .)

posted by Patti | permalink (click to comment)
Hi -

Sounds like everyone is catching a social disease.

You forgot the new phrase -- that reveals who is a newbie to SNA -- "social networkING analysis" ;-)
Patti, just found this blogbyte and want to thank you for taking the time to provide such well-crafted and researched piece on how our human language is changing due to social media influence and it continues to evolve. I appreciate the glossary, embedded links for further resourcing, and the clarity you put forth.

I agree with your observation of David Weinberger's comment about the entire shift has to do with the word, "social."

I remember seeing a recent tweet (either from @charlestlee or @guykawasaki that reminded all of us to retain "social" in "social media." I just finished viewing on YouTube, Sir Kenneth Robinson, "Do Schools Destroy Creativity?," where he expresses his concerns relating to our current static model for education which he believes, stifles creativity. I agree with his comments how social media is indeed changing how people are (and should be), learning, and the need for each of us to rethink old-school models for communicating, interacting, and learning.The app here should be for traditional academia, business corporate training programs, and non-profit / benevolent organizations' civic and community educational awareness initiatives.

Again, the point is: "social"...node-to-node...collaborative...aggregated."
Patti, I'll share with my Twitter followers, this excellent commenting you've created. Very intriguing. I just added you @panklam, to my thought leaders to follow.

Marta Driesslein
Hi Patty

Great post - I found it very interesting! And thank you too for including my work in your list, am honored to have made it :)

I'd actually never heard of Clay Shirky's book either, which sounds fascinating - so I'll prob be running out to get and read as soon as possible to see how our ideas connect - thank you again!

All the best

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