Social computing

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Social computing is an area of computer science that is concerned with the intersection of social behavior and computational systems. It is based on creating or recreating social conventions and social contexts through the use of software and technology. Thus, blogs, email, instant messaging, social network services, wikis, social bookmarking and other instances of what is often called social software illustrate ideas from social computing.

Computer science study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation

Computer science is the study of processes that interact with data and that can be represented as data in the form of programs. It enables the use of algorithms to manipulate, store, and communicate digital information. A computer scientist studies the theory of computation and the practice of designing software systems.

Social behavior Behavior among two or more organisms, typically of same species

Social behavior is behavior among two or more organisms within the same species, and encompasses any behavior in which one member affects the other. This is due to an interaction among those members. Social behavior can be seen as similar to an exchange of goods, with the expectation that when you give, you will receive the same. This behavior can be effected by both the qualities of the individual and the environmental (situational) factors. Therefore, social behavior arises as a result of an interaction between the two—the organism and its environment. This means that, in regards to humans, social behavior can be determined by both the individual characteristics of the person, and the situation they are in.

Email method of exchanging digital messages between people over a network

Electronic mail is a method of exchanging messages ("mail") between people using electronic devices. Invented by Ray Tomlinson, email first entered limited use in the 1960s and by the mid-1970s had taken the form now recognized as email. Email operates across computer networks, which today is primarily the Internet. Some early email systems required the author and the recipient to both be online at the same time, in common with instant messaging. Today's email systems are based on a store-and-forward model. Email servers accept, forward, deliver, and store messages. Neither the users nor their computers are required to be online simultaneously; they need to connect only briefly, typically to a mail server or a webmail interface for as long as it takes to send or receive messages.



Social computing begins with the observation that humansand human behaviorare profoundly social. From birth, humans orient to one another, and as they grow, they develop abilities for interacting with each other. This ranges from expression and gesture to spoken and written language. As a consequence, people are remarkably sensitive to the behavior of those around them and make countless decisions that are shaped by their social context. Whether it's wrapping up a talk when the audience starts fidgeting, choosing the crowded restaurant over the nearly deserted one, or crossing the street against the light because everyone else is doing so, social information provides a basis for inferences, planning, and coordinating activity.

The premise of social computing is that it is possible to design digital systems that support useful functionality by making socially produced information available to their users. This information may be provided directly, as when systems show the number of users who have rated a review as helpful or not. Or the information may be provided after being filtered and aggregated, as is done when systems recommend a product based on what else people with similar purchase history have purchased. Alternatively, the information may be provided indirectly, as is the case with Google's page rank algorithms which orders search results based on the number of pages that (recursively) point to them. In all of these cases, information that is produced by a group of people is used to provide or enhance the functioning of a system. Social computing is concerned with systems of this sort and the mechanisms and principles that underlie them.

Social computing can be defined as follows:

"Social Computing" refers to systems that support the gathering, representation, processing, use, and dissemination of information that is distributed across social collectivities such as teams, communities, organizations, and markets. Moreover, the information is not "anonymous" but is significantly precise because it is linked to people, who are in turn linked to other people. [1]

More recent definitions, however, have foregone the restrictions regarding anonymity of information, acknowledging the continued spread and increasing pervasiveness of social computing. As an example, Hemmatazad, N. (2014) defined social computing as "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." [2]

PLATO may be the earliest example of social computing in a live production environment with initially hundreds and soon thousands of users, on the PLATO computer system based in the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign in 1973, when social software applications for multi-user chat rooms, group message forums, and instant messaging appeared all within that year. In 1974, email was made available as well as the world's first online newspaper called NewsReport, which supported content submitted by the user community as well as written by editors and reporters.

PLATO (computer system) mainframe computer system

PLATO was the first generalized computer-assisted instruction system. Starting in 1960, it ran on the University of Illinois' ILLIAC I computer. By the late 1970s, it supported several thousand graphics terminals distributed worldwide, running on nearly a dozen different networked mainframe computers. Many modern concepts in multi-user computing were originally developed on PLATO, including forums, message boards, online testing, e-mail, chat rooms, picture languages, instant messaging, remote screen sharing, and multiplayer video games.

Internet forum online discussion site

An Internet forum, or message board, is an online discussion site where people can hold conversations in the form of posted messages. They differ from chat rooms in that messages are often longer than one line of text, and are at least temporarily archived. Also, depending on the access level of a user or the forum set-up, a posted message might need to be approved by a moderator before it becomes publicly visible.

Instant messaging form of communication over the Internet

Instant messaging (IM) technology is a type of online chat that offers real-time text transmission over the Internet. A LAN messenger operates in a similar way over a local area network. Short messages are typically transmitted between two parties, when each user chooses to complete a thought and select "send". Some IM applications can use push technology to provide real-time text, which transmits messages character by character, as they are composed. More advanced instant messaging can add file transfer, clickable hyperlinks, Voice over IP, or video chat.

Social computing has to do with supporting "computations" that are carried out by groups of people, an idea that has been popularized in James Surowiecki's book, The Wisdom of Crowds. Examples of social computing in this sense include collaborative filtering, online auctions, prediction markets, reputation systems, computational social choice, tagging, and verification games. The social information processing page focuses on this sense of social computing.

James Surowiecki American journalist

James Michael Surowiecki is an American journalist. He was a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he wrote a regular column on business and finance called "The Financial Page".

<i>The Wisdom of Crowds</i> book published in 2004

The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations, published in 2004, is a book written by James Surowiecki about the aggregation of information in groups, resulting in decisions that, he argues, are often better than could have been made by any single member of the group. The book presents numerous case studies and anecdotes to illustrate its argument, and touches on several fields, primarily economics and psychology.

Collaborative filtering algorithm

Collaborative filtering (CF) is a technique used by recommender systems. Collaborative filtering has two senses, a narrow one and a more general one.


Technology infrastructure

The idea to engage users using websites to interact was first brought forth by Web 2.0 and was an advancement from Web 1.0 where according to Cormode, G. and Krishnamurthy, B. (2008): "content creators were few in Web 1.0 with the vast majority of users simply acting as consumers of content." [2]

Web 2.0 provided functionalities that allowed for low cost web-hosting services and introduced features with browser windows that used basic information structure and expanded it to as many devices as possible using HTTP. [3]

By 2006, Of particular interest in the realm of social computing is social software for enterprise. Sometimes referred to as "Enterprise 2.0", [4] a term derived from Web 2.0, this generally refers to the use of social computing in corporate intranets and in other medium- and large-scale business environments. It consisted of a class of tools that allowed for networking and social changes to businesses at the time. It was a layering of the business tools on Web 2.0 and brought forth several applications and collaborative software with specific uses.


Electronic negotiation, which first came up in 1969 and was adapted over time to suit financial markets networking needs, represents an important and desirable coordination mechanism for electronic markets. Negotiation between agents (software agents as well as humans) allows cooperative and competitive sharing of information to determine a proper price. Recent research and practice has also shown that electronic negotiation is beneficial for the coordination of complex interactions among organizations. Electronic negotiation has recently emerged as a very dynamic, interdisciplinary research area covering aspects from disciplines such as Economics, Information Systems, Computer Science, Communication Theory, Sociology and Psychology.

Social computing has become more widely known because of its relationship to a number of recent trends. These include the growing popularity of social software and Web 3.0, increased academic interest in social network analysis, the rise of open source as a viable method of production, and a growing conviction that all of this can have a profound impact on daily life. A February 13, 2006 paper by market research company Forrester Research suggested that:

Easy connections brought about by cheap devices, modular content, and shared computing resources are having a profound impact on our global economy and social structure. Individuals increasingly take cues from one another rather than from institutional sources like corporations, media outlets, religions, and political bodies. To thrive in an era of Social Computing, companies must abandon top-down management and communication tactics, weave communities into their products and services, use employees and partners as marketers, and become part of a living fabric of brand loyalists. [1] [4]

Theoretical Foundations

Socially intelligent computing is a new term that refers to the recent efforts of individuals to understand the ways in which systems of people and computers will prove useful as intermediaries between people and tools used by people. These systems result in new behaviors that occur as a result of the complex interaction between humans and computers and can be explained by several different areas of science. The Foundations of Social Computing are deeply vested in the understanding of social psychology and cyberpsychology. Social psychology covers topics such as decision making, persuasion, group behavior, personal attraction, and factors that promote health and well-being. [5] Cognitive sciences also play a huge role in understanding Social computing and human behavior on networking elements driven by personal needs/means. Sociology is also a factor since overall environments decide how individuals choose to interact. [6]

There are multiple areas of social computing that have been able to expand the threshold of knowledge in this discipline. Each area has been able to have a focus and goal behind it that provides us with a deeper understanding of the social behavior between users that interact using some variation of social computing.

Social Software

Social software can be any computational system that supports social interactions among groups of people. The following are examples of such systems.

Social media

Social media has become an outlet that is one of the most widely used ways of interacting through computers. Though there are many different platforms that can be used for social media, they all serve the same primary purpose of creating a social interaction through computers, mobile devices, etc. Social media has evolved into not just an interaction through text, but through pictures, videos, GIFs, and many other forms of multimedia. This has provided users an enhanced way to interact with other users while being able to more widely express and share during computational interaction. Within the last couple decades, social media has blown up and created many famous applications within the social computing arena.

Social networking

Through social networking, people are able to use platforms to build or enhance social networks/relations among people. These are people who commonly share similar backgrounds, interests, or participate in the same activities. For more details see social networking service.

Wiki pages

A wiki provides computing users a chance to collaborate to come together with a common goal and provide content to the public; both novice and expert users. Through the collaboration and efforts of many, a wiki page has no limit for the number of improvements that can be made.


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A blog, in social computing aspects, is more a way for people to follow a particular user, group, or company and comment on the progress toward the particular ideal being covered in the blog. This allows users to interact using the content that is provided by page admin as the main subject.

Five of the best blogging platforms [3] include Tumblr, Wordpress, Squarespace, Blogger, and Posterous. These sites enable users, whether it be a person, company, or organization, to express certain ideas, thoughts, and/or opinions on either a single or variety of subjects. There are also a new technology called webloging which are sites that hosts blogs such as Myspace and Xanga. Both blogs and weblogging are very similar in that they act as a form of social computing where they help form social relations through one another such as gaining followers, trending using hashtags, or commenting on a post providing an opinion on a blog.

According to a study conducted by Rachael Kwai Fun IP and Christian Wagner, [5] some features of weblogs that attract users and support blogs and weblogs as an important aspect of social computing in forming and strengthening relationships are: content management tools, community building tools, time structuring, search by category, commentary, and the ability to secure closed blogs.

Blogs are also highly used in social computing concepts in order to understand human behaviors amongst online communities through a concept called social network analysis. Social network analysis (SNA) is "a discipline of social science that seeks to explain social phenomena through a structural interpretation of human interaction both as a theory and a methodology". [6] There are certain links that occur in blogs, weblogs in this case, where they have different functions that portray different types of information such as Permalink, Blogrolls, Comments, and Trackbacks.

Online gaming

Online gaming is the social behavior of using an online game while interacting with other users. Online gaming can be done using a multitude of different platforms; common ones include personal computers, Xbox, PlayStation, and many more gaming consoles that can be stationary or mobile.

Online dating

Online dating has created a community of websites like OkCupid, eHarmony, and These platforms provide users with a way to interact with others that have goals relating to creating new relationships. The interaction between users in sites like these will differ based on the platform but the goal is simple; create relationships through online social interaction.

Socially Intelligent Computing

Groups of people interact with these social computing systems in a variety of ways, all of which may be described as socially intelligent computing.


Crowdsourcing is currently a branch of social computing that has brought computing tasks to a new level when it comes to completion speed. This has also given users a way to earn an income through things like Amazon Mechanical Turk.

Dark social media

The Dark social media is the social media tools used to collaborate between individuals where contents are supposed to be only available to the participants. However, unlike mobile phone calls or messaging where information is sent from one user, transmitted through a medium and stored on each user devices, with the medium having no storage permission of the actual content of the data, more and more communication methods include a centralized server where all the contents are received, stored, and then transmitted. Some examples of these new mechanisms include Google Doc, Facebook Messages or Snapchat. All of the information passes through these channels has largely been unaccounted for by users themselves and the data analytics. However, in addition to their respective users private companies (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat) that provided these services do have complete control over such data. The number of images, links, referrals and information pass through digital is supposed to be completely unaccounted for in the marketing scheme of things.

Social Science Theories

Collective intelligence

Collective intelligence is considered an area of social computing because of the group collaboration aspect. Becoming a growing area in computer science, collective intelligence provides users with a way to gain knowledge through collective efforts in a social interactive environment.

Social perceptions

Recent research has begun to look at interactions between humans and their computers in groups. This line of research focuses on the interaction as the primary unit of analysis by drawing from fields such as psychology, social psychology, and sociology. [7] [8]

Current Research

Since 2007, research in social computing has become more popular for researchers and professionals in multiple fields dealing with technology, business and politics. A study performed by affiliates of Washington State University used a Latent semantic analysis on academic papers containing the term "social computing" to find that topics in social computing converge into the three major themes of Knowledge Discovery, Knowledge Sharing and Content Management. [9] Social computing continues to shift the direction of research in Information Sciences as a whole, extending social aspects into technological and corporate domains. Companies and industries such as Google, Cisco and Fox have invested in such endeavors. Possible questions to be answered through social computing research include how to form stable communities, how these communities evolve, how knowledge is created and processed, how people are motivated to participate, etc. [10]

Currently, research in the areas of social computing is being done by many well known labs owned by Microsoft and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The team at Microsoft has taken off with a mission statement of "To research and develop software that contributes to compelling and effective social interactions." [11] They take a main focus on user-centered design processes. They also add rapid prototyping combined with rigorous science to bring forth complete projects and research that can impact the social computing field. Current projects being worked on by the Microsoft team include Hotmap, [12] SNARF, [13] Slam, [14] and Wallop to name a few. MIT, however, has a goal of creating software that shapes our cities [15] and more in depth:

"More specifically, (1) we create micro-institutions in physical space, (2) we design social processes that allow others to replicate and evolve those micro-institutions, and (3) we write software that enables those social processes. We use this process to create more robust, decentralized, human-scale systems in our cities. We are particularly focused on reinventing our current systems for learning, agriculture, and transportation." [15]

The current research projects at the MIT social computing lab include The Dog Programming Language, [16] Wildflower Montessori, and You Are Here. [17] A broad overview of what to expect from newly started Wildflower Montessori is as follows:

"Wildflower Montessori School is a pilot Lab School and the first in a new network of learning centers. Its aim is to be an experiment in a new learning environment, blurring the boundaries between coffee shops and schools, between home-schooling and institutional schooling, between tactile, multisensory methods and abstract thinking. Wildflower will serve as a research platform to test new ideas in advancing the Montessori Method in the context of modern fluencies, as well as to test how to direct the organic growth of a social system that fosters the growth and connection of such schools." [15]

The difference between social science and computational social science

Computational social science can be defined as the interdisciplinary investigation of the social universe on many scales, ranging from individual actors to the largest grouping through the medium of computation. Computer science is the study of the principles and use of computers to study experimentation and theories.


See also

Related Research Articles

Ubiquitous computing is a concept in software engineering and computer science where computing is made to appear anytime and everywhere. In contrast to desktop computing, ubiquitous computing can occur using any device, in any location, and in any format. A user interacts with the computer, which can exist in many different forms, including laptop computers, tablets and terminals in everyday objects such as a refrigerator or a pair of glasses. The underlying technologies to support ubiquitous computing include Internet, advanced middleware, operating system, mobile code, sensors, microprocessors, new I/O and user interfaces, networks, mobile protocols, location and positioning, and new materials.

Social software, also known as Web 2.0 applications or social apps, include communication and interactive tools often based on the Internet. Communication tools typically handle the capturing, storing and presentation of communication, usually written but increasingly including audio and video as well. Interactive tools handle mediated interactions between a pair or group of users. They focus on establishing and maintaining a connection among users, facilitating the mechanics of conversation and talk. Although we do not have a generally accepted definition, social software generally refers to software that makes collaborative behaviour, the organisation and moulding of communities, self-expression, social interaction and feedback possible for individuals. Another important element of the existing definition of "social software" is that it allows for the structured mediation of opinion between people, in a centralized or self-regulating manner. The most improved area for social software is that Web 2.0 applications can all promote cooperation between people and the creation of online communities more than ever before.

Visual programming language

In computing, a visual programming language (VPL) is any programming language that lets users create programs by manipulating program elements graphically rather than by specifying them textually. A VPL allows programming with visual expressions, spatial arrangements of text and graphic symbols, used either as elements of syntax or secondary notation. For example, many VPLs are based on the idea of "boxes and arrows", where boxes or other screen objects are treated as entities, connected by arrows, lines or arcs which represent relations.

Across the many fields concerned with interactivity, including information science, computer science, human-computer interaction, communication, and industrial design, there is little agreement over the meaning of the term "interactivity", although all are related to interaction with computers and other machines with a user interface.

The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to human–computer interaction:

Human-centered computing (HCC) studies the design, development, and deployment of mixed-initiative human-computer systems. It is emerged from the convergence of multiple disciplines that are concerned both with understanding human beings and with the design of computational artifacts. Human-centered computing is closely related to human-computer interaction and information science. Human-centered computing is usually concerned with systems and practices of technology use while human-computer interaction is more focused on ergonomics and the usability of computing artifacts and information science is focused on practices surrounding the collection, manipulation, and use of information.

Interactive computing software which accepts input from humans as it runs

In computer science, interactive computing refers to software which accepts input from humans as it runs.

Interactive media

Interactive media normally refers to products and services on digital computer-based systems which respond to the user's actions by presenting content such as text, moving image, animation, video, audio, and video games.

Ben Shneiderman American computer scientist

Ben Shneiderman is an American computer scientist, a Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Computer Science, which is part of the University of Maryland College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland, College Park, and the founding director (1983-2000) of the University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab. He conducted fundamental research in the field of human–computer interaction, developing new ideas, methods, and tools such as the direct manipulation interface, and his eight rules of design.

Microsoft Research is the research subsidiary of Microsoft. It was formed in 1991, with the intent to advance state-of-the-art computing and solve difficult world problems through technological innovation in collaboration with academic, government, and industry researchers. The Microsoft Research team employs more than 1,000 computer scientists, physicists, engineers, and mathematicians, including Turing Award winners, Fields Medal winners, MacArthur Fellows, and Dijkstra Prize winners.

Human-based computation (HBC), human-assisted computation, ubiquitous human computing or distributed thinking is a computer science technique in which a machine performs its function by outsourcing certain steps to humans, usually as microwork. This approach uses differences in abilities and alternative costs between humans and computer agents to achieve symbiotic human–computer interaction.

Paul Dourish British computer scientist

Paul Dourish is a computer scientist best known for his work and research at the intersection of computer science and social science. Born in Scotland, he is a professor of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, where he joined the faculty in 2000. He is a Fellow of the ACM, and winner of the CSCW 2016 "Lasting Impact" award. Dourish has published three books and over 100 scientific articles, and holds 19 US patents.

End-user development (EUD) or end-user programming (EUP) refers to activities and tools that allow end-users – people who are not professional software developers – to program computers. People who are not professional developers can use EUD tools to create or modify software artifacts and complex data objects without significant knowledge of a programming language. In 2005 it was estimated that by 2012 there would be more than 55 million end-user developers in the United States, compared with fewer than 3 million professional programmers. Various EUD approaches exist, and it is an active research topic within the field of computer science and human-computer interaction. Examples include natural language programming, spreadsheets, scripting languages, visual programming, trigger-action programming and programming by example.

Human-Computer Interaction Institute

The Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCII) is a department within the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It is considered one of the leading centers of human-computer interaction research, and was named one of the top ten most innovative schools in information technology by Computer World in 2008. For the past three decades, the institute has been the predominant publishing force at leading HCI venues, most notably ACM CHI, where it regularly contributes more than 10% of the papers. Research at the institute aims to understand and create technology that harmonizes with and improves human capabilities by integrating aspects of computer science, design, social science, and learning science.

Gender HCI is a subfield of human-computer interaction that focuses on the design and evaluation of interactive systems for humans. The specific emphasis in gender HCI is on differences in how males and females interact with computers.

Justine Cassell is an American professor and researcher interested in human-human conversation, human-computer interaction, and storytelling. Since August 2010 she has been on the faculty of the Carnegie Mellon Human Computer Interaction Institute (HCII).

GroupLens Research computer science research lab at the University of Minnesota focused on recommender systems and social computing

GroupLens Research is a human–computer interaction research lab in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities specializing in recommender systems and online communities. GroupLens also works with mobile and ubiquitous technologies, digital libraries, and local geographic information systems.

Human–computer interaction (HCI) researches the design and use of computer technology, focused on the interfaces between people (users) and computers. Researchers in the field of HCI both observe the ways in which humans interact with computers and design technologies that let humans interact with computers in novel ways. As a field of research, human–computer interaction is situated at the intersection of computer science, behavioral sciences, design, media studies, and several other fields of study. The term was popularized by Stuart K. Card, Allen Newell, and Thomas P. Moran in their seminal 1983 book, The Psychology of Human–Computer Interaction, although the authors first used the term in 1980 and the first known use was in 1975. The term connotes that, unlike other tools with only limited uses, a computer has many uses and this takes place as an open-ended dialog between the user and the computer. The notion of dialog likens human–computer interaction to human-to-human interaction, an analogy which is crucial to theoretical considerations in the field.

Cognitive computing (CC) describes technology platforms that, broadly speaking, are based on the scientific disciplines of artificial intelligence and signal processing. These platforms encompass machine learning, reasoning, natural language processing, speech recognition and vision, human–computer interaction, dialog and narrative generation, among other technologies.

Chris Harrison (computer scientist)

Chris Harrison is an English-born, American computer scientist and entrepreneur, working in the fields of human-computer interaction, machine learning and sensor-driven interactive systems. He is an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University and director of the Future Interfaces Group within the Human-Computer Interaction Institute. He has previously conducted research at AT&T Labs, Microsoft Research, IBM Research and Disney Research. He is also the CTO and co-founder of Qeexo, a machine learning and interaction technology startup.


  1. 1 2 From "Social Computing", introduction to Social Computing special edition of the Communications of the ACM, edited by Douglas Schuler, Volume 37, Issue 1 (January 1994), Pages: 28 - 108
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  3. 1 2 Fitzpatrick, Jason. "Five Best Blogging Platforms." Lifehacker. N.p., 20 June 2010. Web. 22 Oct. 2016
  4. 1 2 A term coined by Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School in the Spring 2006 MIT Sloan Management Review.
    McAfee, Andrew (2006). "Enterprise 2.0: The Dawn of Emergent Collaboration". MIT Sloan Management Review. 47 (3): 21–28.
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Introduction to Computational Social Science: Principles and Applications . textbook by Claudio Cioffi-Revilla

Published at December 31, 2,3