Content is the slug’s trail in social software

I proposed a slightly provocative definition of social software when we were discussing it at the July 2004 London Symposium on Social Tools for the Enterprise.

My concern with most current social software tools is that they focus too much on the content. Perhaps this reflects that many of the companies and individuals who are active creating software have a background in knowledge management.

To me, that is the wrong focus. Content is the means to an end, not the end. Think of content as the slug’s trail: it shows you where you’ve been. It reminds you of the path you took to get where you are now. Many active bloggers use their blogs as a sort of extended memory for exactly this purpose. In the enterprise setting, there is tremendous value to be had in making knowledge, experiences, and values explicit and amenable to search and categorisation.

But the real value of social software in the enterprise is not in the content. Content doesn’t do anything. People do; and what makes a difference to the enterprise is people coming together innovating and changing the organisation.

The value of social software is in creating social connections where none existed, or in strengthening existing connections. Key success factors are to make everything addressable (links persist connections) and to make everything a feed. The last point is really important: social software must enable me to discover conversations and then facilitate me contributing to the discussion. That is why e-mail, critical as it is to most businesses, is not a social software tool.

Lee Bryant really stressed the message that everything is a feed and the importance of managing feeds (as opposed to individual content items) as critical to the success they have had with the NHS.