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What is Social Computing?

By Susan Darby
Updated May 16, 2024
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In its simplest form, social computing is the use of computers and digital devices such as smart phones to allow two or more people to interact and collaborate via the Internet. The popular trend emerged with the introduction of Web 2.0, which created a single, easy-to-use online platform. Through it, people and computers interacted through intuitive software that recognizes a user’s behavior and makes assumptions based on these actions. Built on the basic principles of an open platform to access information, flexible and intuitive web-based software, and transparent communication to share collective knowledge, social computing allows people, businesses and institutions a way to create virtual worlds in which users participate in a variety of ways.

People use social computing to connect with others, learn new information, play online games in real time, and build communities based on shared interests. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide use social computing to compare prices, post reviews and debate issues. Most sites are free and publicly available through an Internet connection, so these accumulated conversations, comments and ratings are changing the way people interact with businesses.

The trend is also changing the way companies do business. By gathering social computing intelligence, companies develop social media strategies to take advantage of these connections continuously happening online. E-mail remains closely tied to social computing by serving as a filter. For example, members of networking communities receive e-mail alerts about new posts in their favorite online communities; businesses use e-mail lists gathered from a customer database to send e-newsletters or special offers. Recipients can filter the messages and access the information most important to them.

While people have practiced social networking for centuries, social computing through the Internet has helped users build new relationships, as well. Based on the six degrees of separation concept, the practice of online social networking assumes that two people in the world can make contact through no more than five other people. One person invites his or her contacts to join an online community. Those contacts, in turn, invite their contacts and those contacts invite people they know to join. Through these interconnected online communities, users meet “good to know” people they are unlikely to meet in any other situation.

New and emerging software and mobile devices, such as media tablets that allow users to see and hear each other while networking online, make social computing more convenient and continuous. Newer software developments aim to improve interactions between users and computers through context-awareness. These tools recognize user behaviors, as well as the user’s preferences and emotions, and use that knowledge to enhance collaboration and communication.

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