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Week 2 Reflections

This week I focused my efforts on the history of Social Computing.  I started with the Blog post by Christopher Allen and used the information there to do some further research on the history behind the genesis of Groupware, Electronic Information Exchange System (EIES) and the concepts behind Computer-Supported Collaborative Work (CSCW) that shaped mush of what social software is today. 

When I think of Social Computing, I generally tend to think of the most common forums this takes in today's day and age, specifically, Social Networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.  One of the things I'm enjoying about this course is how it is opening my aperture to the many forms social computing can take and the various facets that it covers.  Going down some rabbit holes this week has really helped in that regard (one particular rabbit hole led me to discovering that the site SixDegress even predated MySpace as the first modern era Social Networking site).

When reading the blog by Christopher Allen I appreciated his perspective that Vannevar Bush's concept of the Memex as the first real recorded dialogue of "... people using computers to collaborate with one another".  Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical that this was the oldest such reference (from the 1940s) so I tried to find something else.  While I didn't do an exhaustive search, I couldn't find anything that specifically referenced machines facilitating human collaboration.  When it comes to social computing, anything further than this timeframe seem to only refence historical means of facilitating human interaction as the true genesis of social computing (i.e. ancient courier systems as a means of facilitating communication across long distances).  While this study does really tie a more wholistic thread to the underlying driving force behind why social computing is so fundamental to the human condition, I had to stop myself from going too far down this rabbit hole to focus more on the 'computing' aspect of social computing!

When reading and doing some further research on the EIES, I couldn't help but be reminded of my Signals training in the military as a communicator.  When developing a "Signals Plan" (basically, a plan for how your deployed unit is going to communicate both internally and externally), one of the first thing you have to do is identify the Information Exchange Requirements (IER).  This is basically a process of listing all the different groups within your org and identifying who they need to communicate with and what information they need to communicate.  This is basically how EIES was developed (as a solution to computer conferencing[1]). 

I really found the evolution of Groupware quite fascinating.  There are a few definitions provided in blog, but one that resonated the most with me "intentional group processes plus software to support them".  Simple yet effective.  That truly is the essence of what Groupware/CSCW/Social Media is.  Group processes can take many forms (economic, political, social, etc...) and social computing is really just an electronic and networked means to support these processes that has evolved over time. 

Moving forward in the course, I'm going to try and keep this fundamental tenant at the forefront of my thoughts.  I think it will provided a good unifying theme to various stems we will explore. 



[1] IRC History -- Electronic Information Exchange system (EIES). Accessed September 28, 2021


  • Jon Dron September 29, 2021 - 12:45pm

    It might be worth looking into Doug Engelbart's work, because he basically invented everything! including the GUI, the mouse, and much of what we use today. That includes hypertext (notwithstanding the Memex) and a wide range of collaboration tools, notably NLS in the 1960s.