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Democratizing Web Software

Certain software being developed for use on the Internet have particularly democratizing properties. Open source software, for example, is available for free downloading and adaptation, allowing a level of use and distribution prohibited in the realm of proprietary software. Social software, meanwhile, facilitates open publishing, online organizing, collaboration, and interaction, giving voice to and bringing together people who likely would never have encountered one another without these new technologies, and facilitating new forms of political organizing and activism. Democratizing software often has overlapping properties: for example, many versions of social software are also open source.

Social Software

Social software enables a variety of many-to-many online interactions, including open publishing, collaborative moderating, and self-organizing. Open publishing sites, such as Indymedia.org, facilitate online journalism and other forms of expression by the public at large, which has traditionally been relegated to the role of media consumers. Some open publishing sites implement collaborative moderating, such as Discordia's rating scheme and Slashdot's reputation software. Other web sites, like Idealist.org, facilitate self-organizing activist coalitions. These sites encourage users to contribute information by adding their organization to the coalition, creating online petitions, and creating content. By fostering collaborative online activist communities such sites facilitate relationships between users and give them opportunities for a deeper involvement in the site (contributing rather than merely consuming) and, by extension, the movement to which it pertains.

Articles on Social Software

Historical Roots of Social Software by Howard Rheingold

Social Software defined at Meatball Wiki

My Working Definition of Social Software by Tom Coates
Social software is a particular sub-class of software-prosthesis that concerns itself with the augmentation of human social and/or collaborative abilities through structured mediation (this mediation may be distributed or centralized, top-down or bottom-up/emergent).

Social Software and the Politics of Groups by Clay Shirky
To get a conversation going around a conference table or campfire, you need to gather everyone in the same place at the same moment. By undoing those restrictions, the internet has ushered in a host of new social patterns, from the mailing list to the chat room to the weblog. The thing that makes social software behave differently than other communications tools is that groups are entities in their own right. A group of people interacting with one another will exhibit behaviors that cannot be predicted by examining the individuals in isolation, peculiarly social effects like flaming and trolling or concerns about trust and reputation.

Are You Ready for Social Software? By Stowe Boyd
Social software supports the desire of individuals to be pulled into groups to achieve goals. Social software allows us to create new social groupings and then new sorts of social conventions arise. Social software works bottom-up. 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. Social software reflects the "juice" that arises from people's personal interactions. It's not about control, it's about co-evolution: people in personal contact, interacting towards their own ends, influencing each other. But there isn't a single clearly defined project, per se. It's a sprawling, tentacled world, where social dealings are inductive, going from the individual, to a group, to many groups and, finally, to the universe.

Social Software - Get Real by Martyn Perks
By creating and fostering communities of interest, distant disenfranchised sections of the population will supposedly begin to establish new partnerships, which will help to transform political activity. The key words and phrases of social software are 'transparency', 'decentralisation', 'inclusion', 'local not global', 'the powerless majority' and 'power to the people'. At its root is the desire to recreate lost social capital.

Sites Addressing Social Software Issues

Offers articles pertaining to reputation systems in peer-to-peer networks.

Social Software Alliance - Alliance Charter
SSA was formed to assist, support and defend the creation of social software standards and practices.

Organizers’ Collaborative
Our staff and volunteers have scoured the Internet and located over 280 links relevant to computers and social change organizing.

Could the next generation of online communications strengthen civil society by better connecting people to others with whom they share affinities, so they can more effectively exchange information and self-organize? Could such a system help to revitalize democracy in the 21st century?

Reputations Research Network

Social Software Examples

The active software creates a set of web pages which allow web surfers to contribute to a shared calendar, groups listing, and multimedia news with discussion.

Aegir CMS is a versatile and user-friendly Web Content Management System. It provides site managers with MS Word compatible tools for maintaining site information, approval system for controlling the publication process, and a separate layout management system. Aegir CMS is available for free under Open Source licensing.

Everything Company
Features of Everything include “chatterbox” which allows realtime communication between users; a voting system to help establish trust among users; weblogs allow easy communication with users.

Mir is an Open-Source content management system (CMS), designed to run an Indymedia-type website. Besides powering several Indymedia sites, a number of progressive organizations use Mir customized for their own needs. Mir aims to provide sophisticated functionality, for example, complete multi-lingual content production, editing, administration, and presentation, while retaining the ability to be run on less than top of the line hardware through extensive static caching.

Samizdat is a generic RDF-based engine for building collaboration and open publishing web sites. Samizdat will let everyone publish, view, comment, edit, and aggregate text and multimedia resources, vote on ratings and classifications, filter resources by flexible sets of criteria, cooperate and coordinate on all kinds of activities (see Design Goals document for details). Samizdat intends to promote values of freedom, openness, equality, and cooperation.

Scoop is a "collaborative media application". It falls somewhere between a content management system, a web bulletin board system, and a weblog. Scoop is designed to enable your website to become a community. It empowers your visitors to be the producers of the site, contributing news and discussion, and making sure that the signal remains high.

Slash is the source code and database that was originally used to create Slashdot.

WebDAV provides a network protocol for creating interoperable, collaborative applications.



Open Source Software

Open source software is available free to the public, on condition that the source code, as well as all of its derivations, remains freely available to the public. By protecting source code under the terms of copyleft as opposed to copyright, programmers ensure that their code will remain free and cannot be co-opted and used in propriety software sold for profit. Source code can be downloaded for free, used, and even altered, but the new code must then be made freely available to the public to use and alter under the same conditions. Open source software can be created to serve any function–for example it can run an operating system (Linux) or it can be a programming language (Perl). Many of the software platforms designed to facilitate open publishing are also open source. These include Active, Wiki, and Twiki.

Articles on Open Source Software

The Power of Openness: Why Citizens, Education, Government and Business Should Care About the Coming Revolution in Open Source Code Software from Opencode.org.

Examples of Open Source Software

Debian and Red Hat

Web Sites Using Open Source Software

OSDN (Open Source Development Network, Inc.) is the most dynamic community-driven media network on the Web. OSDN sites include Slashdot.org, the award-winning news discussion site; and SourceForge.net, the world's largest collaborative open source software development site. OSDN also owns ThinkGeek.com, the leading e-commerce site featuring innovative products "for smart masses."

OSCOM is an international, not-for-profit organization dedicated to Open Source Content Management.

Samizdat is a generic RDF-based engine for building collaboration and open publishing web sites. Samizdat will let everyone publish, view, comment, edit, and aggregate text and multimedia resources, vote on ratings and classifications, filter resources by flexible sets of criteria, cooperate and coordinate on all kinds of activities (see Design Goals document for details). Samizdat intends to promote values of freedom, openness, equality, and cooperation.

Sites Addressing Open Source Software Issues