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Choosing the right social software tools

How do we choose the right social software tools? That’s what’s on my mind this morning, as I make plans for the launch of Berkshire’s Sustainability Project and also the revamped GuanxiOnline. This question relates to a personal project: mapping social media. They’re all around now, from Flickr to Swicki tag clouds. And there are basic tools: wikis and blogs and forums. But there doesn’t seem to be enough effort made to create ways to understand them and choose between them.

In fact, I’m getting more and more frustrated by how poorly organized most information is, and by the way this disconnects people from important issues. It’s easy to know about stuff, like global warming or weblogs or terrorism, but not to understand it. What do I mean by “understand”? It’s quite basic. Knowing what the term means (precisely), what the key causes and consequences, or uses and risks, are, and where the debates are. The kind of basic overview you’d get by asking someone knowledgeable and clearheaded to give you an explanation while chatting in line for a latte. (We hope experts will be knowledgeable and clearheaded, but that’s not always the case. I’ve known plenty of wild-eyed, hyper-opinionated specialists, not to mention paranoid terrorism experts.)

I’ve asked Rachel, HTML Queen, to put my social software classification system into a table so it’s easy for you to read. (Here’s an early and not-so-easy-to-read version.) I’m going to be testing this myself, for both our new projects, but will also be e-mailing it far and wide for feedback. Some of that feedback is going to be, “Why do you need to organize it, why can’t you just accept the complexity?” But I don’t think it’s really all that complex, and I feel sure that far more people will use these really useful tools if they have a straightforward way to assess whether a wiki or blog or a forum will best serve their particular purpose. Otherwise what happens is that individuals cling to whatever they have become comfortable with (“I’m a blog girl,” I heard someone say, or “listservs seem to work pretty well”) instead of going for the right tool for the job.

Kind of like using a hammer when a wedge is what we really need.

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