Social Computing

Social Computing

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch664
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Throughout the last few decades, computational technologies have grown increasingly more capable, useful, and connected at an exponential rate. While this general boon in computational power may have occurred fairly recently, discussions relating to the ideas of interconnected computational systems and instantaneous, widespread information exchange began much earlier. As one example, we can turn to the early efforts of Vannevar Bush, who helped facilitate and institutionalize cooperations between the United States government, business communities, and academicians for the advancement of military-centered scientific research endeavors. This formal cooperation would pave the way for later initiatives, such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA, and subsequently DARPA) and the project, ARPANET, which would serve as a precursor to the modern Internet.

The real fruits of early theoretical and engineering groundwork such as this, however, would become apparent on a much larger scale beginning in the 1980's and throughout the early 1990's, a timeframe that would mark the development of several early communications technologies, including Usenet (a decentralized system of distributed discussions), Internet Relay Chat (IRC; a real-time, multiparty text communication system), and the World Wide Web (WWW), which would set a new standard for the electronic presentation and dissemination of text and media contents.

Though some of the fundamental characteristics of social computing had already been cemented even in these early technologies (real-time user content distribution, for example, was a natural prerequisite of Internet-mediated chat), the Web and consumer technologies were still in their infancy. Technical limitations (such as a lack of bandwidth for widespread distribution of rich media, as well as limited processing power available to consumption devices), lack of user adoption, and the lengthy development of new standards for how best to utilize new mediums for communication each constricted the advancement of more powerful social computing applications.

By the start of the new millennium, however, a movement known as “Web 2.0” was quickly gaining traction. The motivation behind this development was to acknowledge the evolving state of 1) consumer Web-enabled technologies, which boasted continuously increasing processing and display capabilities, 2) advancements in the overarching Internet infrastructure which allowed for decreased latency and increased throughput of data transmissions, 3) more widespread adoption of Web technologies, and 4) increased user and developer activity surrounding collaborative and social technologies. As Fischer (2009) observed, this paradigm could be succinctly characterized by its objective of “fostering and supporting social production and mass engagement and collaboration.”

While this term (Web 2.0) may have been merely a label — considered little more than jargon even by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web (Laningham, 2006) — the notions it represented provided the foundation for social computing as we know it today. Through the course of just over a decade, the Web had gone from the nascent realization of a technical dream, to a medium where users could stay constantly connected via the exchange of text, images, audio, and video media, from the comfort of their home, or abroad with their mobile devices.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Computing: The use of computational devices to facilitate or augment the social interactions of their users, or to evaluate those interactions in an effort to obtain new information.

Check-In: A function for expressing a user's visiting of a physical location, or their participation in some event or occurrence, physical or otherwise.

Social Identity: How a user is perceived within a larger social community.

Peer-to-Peer: A connection existing directly from one user to another, with no intermediary.

Blog: A blog, or web log, is a medium for posting detailed text or rich media entries, often as part of a larger collection pertaining to some overarching subject or theme.

Collaborative Filtering System: A system which evaluates the historic activity of its users in order to make predictions about the preferences of those users or others who are, by some criteria, similar to them.

Virality: The widespread propagation or adoption of new contents or services across an online community.

Social Network: A social computing application that allows users to establish friend or follower-type relationships with others, and to exchange or broadcast text and rich media contents either directly or via aggregated timelines of activity.

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