Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Social Transformation through software

The purpose of software as a social transformation tool is rarely considered. This is mainly because most software is designed for personal productivity. The function of collaborative software, on the other hand, whether it is a blog, a wiki, Microsoft's SharePoint server or workspaces, is to engender social co-development of dynamic processes, products or ideas.

The enterprise is a fertile medium for such social software due to its ability to bring together people working towards common goals. SocialText, a company profiled in Businessweek is working to provide a means for this activity. They have an open source version as well, called Kwiki, that sounds like something I might get on a layover in Hawaii;)

As their blog has it:

Fun is getting things done together quickly as a team. No $1,000 chairs, no custom architecture, no in-house masseurs. A distributed team of top-notch developers, where we find them. We stay in touch with VOIP and wiki, no costume parties or island retreats.
..enterprise software has failed us. 90 percent of collaboration is done with email; knowledge management software goes unused by many

The challenge however, is that enterprise-like structures tend to favor controlled dialog over free thought and expression. The calcification of processes becomes in effect a reason to follow them in the first place, rather than a means to derive a result.

An example of what can happen if unchecked collaboration is allowed to proliferate came recently at Wikipedia when the editors 'froze' the entry for George W Bush, due to incessant partisan rewriting of his biography. Other sites one notices as 'frozen' include India.

Wikipedia's own notes on 'protecting' pages
are interesting.

This page has been protected from editing to deal with vandalism. Please discuss any proposed changes on the talk page.
Protection is not an endorsement of the current version

Edit Wars that could ensue over a page on a wiki, enterprise or otherwise, are a new form of combat, where quite literally, the wars are won with words, not guns. Of course, it raises the question 'Qui custodet, ipsos custodes?', originally 'an excoriation of female perfidy in Juvenal'

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