Sample Review – Social Computing: An Overview

Note: I have left in headings for your reading/unpacking convenience – I do not expect or recommend you leave these in your own.

Citation:  Parameswaran, Manoj and Andrew B. Winston. “Social Computing: An Overview,” Communications of the Association for Information Systems (Volume 19, 2007) 762-780.

 Your précis of author’s argument;

‘Social Computing: An Overview’ defines the various facets of a collection of technologies being identified as Social Computing, which the authors, Parameswaran and Whinston, describe as having disruptive potential for the business world and through extension on society itself. They attempt to define this disruption, identify potential threats and negative effects that we should be wary of and point to specific areas for further study.

An explanation of the issue being addressed / The question being asked / The larger area of investigation;

The authors contend that Social Computing is predicated upon one critical factor: the combination of scalability and use of lightweight tools ultimately drives the various human factors that they see as implicit in its rise. The result of this technological convergence is the proliferation of opportunity for normal human behaviour in an empowered way. (769) The larger area of investigation involves the nature of this disruption and proposes means in which to consider it for future research projects.

The specific areas identified for investigation are:

  1. The evolution of the dynamic and how this is essential to new and emerging platforms;
  2. The nature of the decentralisation that is taking place and how it can be measured;
  3. How governance is being changed/challenged and what forms ‘self-policing’ take;
  4. How technological innovation (specifically lightweight means) is providing a foundation for this evolution;
  5. Most critically the threats emerging from this evolution.

Situation of this article into the research ecosystem – i.e. referenced and related articles and arguments – how is it relevant to research strands?;

Written in 2007, this article drew together a variety of streams of thought relating to specific facets of social media, the shift from client server to web-based information systems architecture and synthesised this into an overview not previously attempted by that point in time. Although it relies on limited number of additional studies/articles, and critically a couple by authors themselves, the limited studies support the conjecture being attempted.

Your appreciation of how well the author achieves his/her objectives;

Many of the trends identified, such as the shifting of computing to the edge of the network and the rise of individual contribution remain telling and contribute to ongoing research. In attempting to describe the nature of disruption promised by the rise of Social Computing, the author’s make repeated reference to moving to this edge, but leave this ‘edge’ largely undefined. Considering the article in the frame of its time, it may seem somewhat shallow in evidence, but at this superficial level providing some intriguing questions for further explorations. In light of subsequent developments in this broad area of Social Computing, the author’s even limited observations are remarkably prescient. The concept of broader individual empowerment through specific technological engagement at the edges has certainly been substantiated. Particular choices of firms that might have seemed sustainable at the time have turned out to be unsustainable. However, this does not damage the authors’ overall argument and in fact probably reinforces measuring the evolution via the issues pointed out by the authors.

Questions that remain in your mind after reading and considering the article.

Given this articles time of study and writing of 2007, it is clear that new trends, such as the rapid emergence of mobile computing amongst others provide significant contributions to the argument that the author’s make and in further evaluation would lend to a revision of this article. Given the time that has passed we are in a positive position to evaluate how prescient the authors’ have been in their conclusions.

One of the missing cogs in this entire discussion is instant messaging beyond the discussion around Skype. Twitter didn’t emerge until 2008. This may change some of the author’s perceptions not just around reputation and User Generated Content, but also substantiate the use of lightweight computing resources moving to the edge. Conversely the emergence of even smaller, less media rich aspects add to the noise and clutter they identify as a potential pitfall. This leads to a large discussion around the nature of digital literacy and development of new filtering mechanisms, with implications of how they filter traditional streams as well and lead to bias and the echo chamber effect that has emerged subsequently.

The Authors’ general prescription for the potential threats of Social Computing seems to be ‘certification’ cited in multiple instances. Strangely the Authors’ seem to shy away from actually looking to Social Computing to police itself or examining the deeper cultural transformation its rise constitutes as also leading to new leveraged means to combat these same ills. Arguing that reputation, trust, etc. are relevant and carry forward regardless of technology exposes a new examination only vaguely hinted at by the authors about how are these being re-commoditised. Work by thinkers such as Wallace ( on how privacy should not be seen as an impediment to innovation but in the corollary how it becomes less essential with greater transparency leading to new forms of trust suggest how the trends this article points to may have even more far reaching societal impacts than the authors may have imagined.

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