The year I fell in love with social software
Not since the 1990s has there been such excitement about things that happen inside computers says Aleks Krotoski.
Last year I wrote an opinion piece for the Guardian about social software called How the Web Will Link Us All (technology.guardian.co.uk). It is, I proclaimed, a technological movement that connects people in significant ways. I received a deluge of emails. Some were from older people who'd lost loved ones and felt isolated, and needed advice on the best way to reach out and touch someone. Others were creative types who saw the potential for the new technologies to turbo-boost their grassroots ideas into the mainstream.
Most people were simply excited by it and wanted to tell someone. Their responses provide the fodder I often use for answers to questions like, "So, what's wrong with real life?" whenever people find out what I do for a living.
This year, non-technology papers screamed about MySpace. Google bought YouTube, a video-sharing community, for a scandalous amount of money. Yahoo! launched its social search Yahoo! Answers, and South Park did a spoof of World of Warcraft. Not since the dotcom bubble of the late 1990s has there been such mainstream excitement about things that happen inside computers. Sure, the idea of technology that brings people together may seem obvious now, but that's because we've discovered what it can do, and how it can connect us in meaningful ways.
I often get criticised by readers of the Gamesblog because I don't regularly talk about traditional games. Well, the offline games that were released this year didn't do much for me. Sequels in name and incognito; my shelf groans with cookie-cutter copies of old software. But in 2006, against my better judgment, I fell for virtual worlds.
One of the things I like most about them is how they bring people together. They're social software rather than just software. They make much more inspiring entertainment than hanging out with the incoherent 15-year-olds who tend to block up Xbox Live.
There will be plenty of digital partying online this year as people rev up for the holidays. Virtual communities tend to mark times of joy, like birthdays and New Year's Eve, and times of sadness, like personal memorials or days of national mourning. I'm still amazed at the groups in City of Heroes, a comic-inspired massively multiplayer game, who bowed in respect to their fallen Superman after Christopher Reeve died.
This year, before I head off to see family and friends, I'll be preparing a virtual pot of mulled wine for my digital mates who, sadly, I won't be able see in person. But the bonds that we forged in 2006 across oceans and across the street will remain just as strong in 2007. That's what being social is all about, isn't it?
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