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Week 2: Histories of the Internet and Social Software

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[B enters just as A sees what's written on the board].

A. History. Enthralling.

B. Hello all. Time for some history.

A [rolls eyes].

B. Don't tell me you haven't secretly enjoyed some of the programs you've seen on the History Channel. History is cool, unless you enjoy making the same mistakes others have made over and over again. History just gets a bad rap because some of the people who teach history are... less than intriguing.

A. Why Dave, I didn't know you could be politically correct.

B. Of course, to be fair, there are professors in every field who lack a certain... inherent interestingness.

A [laughs with other students in general agreement]. I know what the Internet is, but what is "social software"?

B. It's a pretty bold statement to claim to know what the Internet is. Whatever your current understanding, hopefully you'll have an even better feel before we're done this week.

A. I don't know what all the mystery is about. I'm on the Web all day long.

B. That's actually a pet peeve of mine, people who call the Web the Internet and vice versa. The Internet is an inter-networking of computers that speak a common language, TCP/IP. [There are other low-level protocols, but this is the most influential.] Several higher-level protocols run on top of TCP/IP -- SMTP, POP3, and IMAP (email), FTP (file transfer), NNTP (newsgroups), and oh yes, HTTP (the web). The Internet is a platform on top of which run several services. Web-related services are only one of the many things that happen on the Internet. But a little knowledge of the history of the Internet will help clear up misconceptions like these. Read Bruce Sterling's Short History of the Internet before the week is out.

A [reeling]. Whoa turbo. I didn't want a CS lecture.

B. You didn't want one, but you probably needed one. Also look through:

By no means comprehensive, but these will get you started.

A. Ok, I'll admit I've got some things left to learn about the Internet. But you never answered my question -- what is "social software"?

B. "Social software" is software that allows people to interact with each other over the Internet; it's a whole family, genre, or millieu of software.

A. Swell. Could you be more specific, and avoid the foreign words, please?

B. Social software is software that lets people interact with each other, whether through spoken or typed conversation, stigmergetic interaction, or indirect contact by railgun [winks to a student in the back]. Understanding the ways in which people use social software is the primary goal of this class. When and if that happens for you personally, you'll then be ready to take that understanding and design and build effective [and, I might add, cool] instructional technologies that utilize the Internet.

A. So in order to understand the way people interact on the network, one would need to understand the types of software that enable those conversations? Is that the point?

B. Partly, but as Stephen points out , people don't just do what the software lets them do. People build new software or adapt old software to make it support what they want to do.

A. Stephen, huh? So this open content thing really works after all?

B. That's getting off-topic a bit, but yes. But getting back to social software, Maria said the beginning is generally "a very good place to start." So in order to get an overview of social software, read

Familiarize yourself with the roots of social software. Hopefully this will give you a good grounding for thinking about modern social software.

A. Is that it for the week? Sounds like a lot of reading.

B. No, a lot of reading would have been assigning the collection of Cyberculture Resources at or a few of the books reviewed at RCCS .

A. But those are obviously optional. So just read the other 5 things then? That's it?

B. There's one final thing:

Assignment: Personal History

Write a short piece [you decide what short means] describing your personal history of use of the Internet and social software. You should answer questions like the following: When did you first start using the Internet? Who introduced you to it? What about social software [like email or instant messaging]? Who introduced you to it? How did you develop your skills after learning about the existence of the Internet and social software? Classes? Help from friends? Trial and error playing around? How important has the Internet become in your life, professionally and personally? Make an effort to connect your personal history to the histories you read this week.

When you've finished writing the short piece, post it to your blog.

Again, if don't remember when this assignment is due, check the Syllabus . Any last questions?

A. No time for questions - have to go start reading!

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2008, May 20). Week 2: Histories of the Internet and Social Software. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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