Most social software is anti-social

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 16, 2005
Filed in Communication

I enjoy reading Dave Pollard’s blog. While reading today’s post on the future of blogging it occurred to me that there is an underlying assumption in the way prognosticators like Dave talk about this type of software: people are working alone and social software makes it easy to avoid face to face encounters.

What if we had more software which brought people together, facilitated participation and fostered face to face conversations? Meetup is one example but I’m sure there are others (would love to know what there are) and if there isn’t we should be creating them.

There should be a new category of software called something like ‘participatory software.’ Its role would be to support processes which encourage people to meet, discuss and take action together. I think social software is too focussed on information sharing and the niceties of technology.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:


  1. Nancy White says:

    I love this! I totally agree with this direction. For about 5 years now I have (often with other wonderful colleagues) been doing hybrids between online and F2F in many permutations. The point here is our online media is part of the interaction ecosystem. Not another planet. (Which surfaces something that always annoys me: the dyad often used — online and real-life. Come on. Online is real too! 🙂

  2. Craig says:

    Here’s a link to a news release that is responsive to your call for software that helps connects people in face-to-face settings.

  3. Matt Moore says:

    Agree with some of the general thrust of this.
    A few suggestions:
    – Mobilibisation of technology. You can blog using your mobile. You can record mini-podcasts if you feel like it.
    – Social software is intimately related to identity – which is a mix of voice (what I say) and reputation (what other people say about me). Identity is social.
    – The blogging lunch we had on Tuesday was real enough. However, most of us only knew others thru their on-line identities.
    – An example of this is internet dating & social groups triggered by on-line interaction around a shared interest. I have seen these take off among people my age and younger.
    Might your point of view be conditioned by your age and state in life Shawn (the enviable situation of being married wih kids ;-)?
    As books like “Smart Mobs” indicate, the line between real & virtual will get increasingly slippery within the next decade.
    And pre-internet, did people spend their whole time playing sport, going for walks & throwing dinner parties? Or did they spend it sitting in front of the TV getting fat?

  4. James Dellow says:

    Again, the consumer space is the one to watch for innovation in this area – e.g. and are just one of many examples out there. Mobile social software is all about participation in 4 dimensions.

  5. Howdy,
    Funny you should post that. I haven’t heard anyone look at this issue from a face to face perspective before.
    We run a business called X2O that specialises in collaboration & networking. We used to be an IT consulting business but to cut a very long story short, we decided to build a web service called PodMatcher ( to bring together our networks.
    There’s a full explanation off but effectively we believe that a face to face component of a community of practice is a major component of social software. So we/I am totally on board with what you are saying. I think there are some serious limitations with the likes of Meetup, but acknowledge its value.
    Its not real sexy, (and not ready for the masses by any stretch) but we built it for our networks use initially – 300 people). We haven’t opened it up to the world yet… but you might want to check it out. We would certainly welcome feedback. (we’ll have a threaded discussion on it soon).
    Go to the URL above and use …/podmatcher.pma
    Peter Christo

  6. Hi Matt, I’m not sure that you understood my main point because I wasn’t saying that social software wont be associated with a f2f component, rather there doesn’t seem to be much aimed specifically at bringing people together f2f. Peter and Craig, however, provide a couple of examples where the software is designed to get people together. I think this is a new category of software as I mentioned in my post and will become more popular.
    Now what is this comment about my point of view and my age and state in life? 😉 Everyone’s point of view is affected by these factors. But I’m not sure what your point is exactly.

  7. Shawn Callahan says:

    Hi James, thanks for the urls. I hadn’t really thought about the consumer mobile market. What are the 4 dimensions you are referring to?

  8. Matt Moore says:

    Shawn – my point was that lots of groups in society are already using software to meet “in real life”.
    And these groups will typically be those on the fringe – disconnected from existing social networks – e.g. young urban folks seeking love & romance: or anti-globalisation activists:
    You are right in that not much out there is aimed at you in the social market. But then most of the non-virtual institutions in our scoiety are designed to support the demographic you come from (white, middle class family men).
    If you were a single 20-something recently arrived in the city & looking for love or someone trying to organise a rally against the G8, you might have a very different perspective on the uses of technology to link people together…
    And I would really recommend Smart Mobs as a primer on the collison of social software & mobile tech that is alreaady happening.

  9. Shawn Callahan says:

    Great clarification Matt. So it looks like there are some good ideas out there that might be useful in the business world. As William Gibson said: “The future has already arrived. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

  10. James Dellow says:

    Shawn – Glad to see we have some Gibson fans in the house… As Matt suggests Smart Mobs is also worth looking at. By 4 dimensions I was talking about the classic classification of collaborative tools into the same time/different place, different time/different place, different time/same place and of course same time/same place (i.e. f2f). Mobile social software lets you move more naturally between each dimension whereas in the past we had different tools for different dimensions. BTW You might find my article about mobile KM of interest here where I position mobile KM as a way of connecting people to other people, places and things.

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