Social Software and Web 2.0: Their Sociological Foundations and Implications

Social Software and Web 2.0: Their Sociological Foundations and Implications

Christian Fuchs (University of Salzburg, Austria)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-384-5.ch044
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Abstract

Currently, there is much talk of Web 2.0 and social software. A common understanding of these notions is not yet in existence. Also the question of what makes social software social has thus far remained unacknowledged. In this chapter, a theoretical understanding of these notions is given. The Web is seen in the context of social theories by thinkers like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Ferdinand Tönnies, and Karl Marx. I identify three levels in the development of the Web, namely Web 1.0 as a web of cognition, Web 2.0 as a web of human communication, and Web 3.0 as a web of cooperation. Also, the myths relating to Web 2.0 and its actual economic and ideological role in contemporary society are discussed.
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1. Introduction

Several new popular websites such as Google, MySpace, YouTube, Wikipedia, Facebook, Craigslist, Classmates and Flickr present users a range of novel applications and services - social networking, wikis, blogging, tagging, social bookmarking, video sharing, or photo sharing. Many of these platforms range among the top 100 US websites in terms of estimated monthly unique visitors. For example:

  • google.com (rank number 1, 137 million users),

  • youtube.com (rank number 6, 73 million users),

  • myspace.com (rank number 7, 72 million users),

  • wikipedia.org (rank number 8, 67 million users),

  • blogspot.com (rank number 13, 44 million users),

  • facebook.com (rank number 15, 40 million users),

  • craigslist.org (rank number 16, 40 million users),

  • blogger.com (rank number 25, 28 million users),

  • wordpress.com (rank number 29, 26 million users),

  • flickr.com (rank number 34, 22 million users),

  • classmates.com (rank number 44, 15 million users),

  • monster.com (rank number 58, 13 million users)1.

Such sites do not focus on conventional functionalities like news and information provision or online shopping, but on applications like social networking platforms, wikis, blogs, tagging, social bookmarks, video sharing, or photo sharing.

The popular press is full of reports on what is now termed “Web 2.0” by many and which is said to constitute a qualitative shift of Internet-technologies and -usage. Here are some examples:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Web 2.0: Web 2.0 is a techno-social system of communication. Networked information technologies are used as medium that allows humans to interact. Examples are e-mail, chat, or discussion forums

Community: Community is a key sociological term that is used in normative and political contexts. The German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies defined a community as a system that is shaped by the consciousness of belonging together and the affirmation of the condition of mutual dependence.

Web 3.0: Web 3.0 is a techno-social system of co-operation. Networked information technologies are used as medium that allows humans to produce something new together or to form cohesive social relations that are bound by feelings of togetherness and belonging. An example for the first are wikis and for the second social networking platforms.

Social Software: This category brings up the theoretical question which software should be considered as social. Based on a broad notion of Durkheimian sociality, all software is social because it is a social fact. Based on a Weberian understanding, only software that allows communication is social. Based on a Tönniesian understanding, only software that supports virtual communities is social. Based on a Marxian approach on sociality, only software that supports co-operation is truly social. An integrative view sees these notions as encapsulated and connected and distinguishes various levels of sociality of the software and ICTs

Web 1.0: Web 1.0 is a techno-social system of cognition. Networked information technologies are used as medium that allows humans to publish their ideas and to engage with the ideas of others. Examples are html-based websites.

Co-operation: Co-operation is a sociological term that on the one hand has the meaning of the production of new qualities and structures by many people who act together. On the other hand the term is frequently opposed to competition and individualization. Karl Marx saw co-operation as a central feature of all societies. In modern, capitalist society, technology would bring about new potentials for co-operation, but these could not be fully realized due to the dominance of private property and capital. He spoke in this context of the antagonism between the productive forces and the relations of production. Marx’s vision was a co-operative society that he envisioned as a participatory democracy

Social action: Social action is a key term in action sociology. Its founder was the German sociologist Max Weber, who defined social action as behaviour that takes into account and gives meaning to the behaviours of others. It is action that is oriented on the actions of others

Social facts: Social fact is a key category in functionalist and structuralist sociology. The French sociologist Emile Durkheim introduced the term. For Durkheim, social facts are ubiquitous social structures that are independent of the individual and constrain human thinking and action

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