Background

Before diving into the details of the emerging socially-oriented technologies, let’s take a look at a bit of ICT history to set the stage. This is easy to do, since the history of enterprise use of ICT is relatively brief. Business computing is traceable back the emergence of the COBOL language and the IBM System 360 in the 1960s. The emergence of databases of computerized records, separate from the programs that operated on the data, was a huge step forward in the ability to maintain and access histories of transactions. Accounting for business conditions has become possible at a fraction of the cost and with much greater functionality since it has been addressed by computerized applications. The accounting function has spread further into the enterprise, through the shop floor and out into the supply chain, as the cost of computing has plummeted and as computers began to talk to each other in the late 1970s. The flip side of the supply chain is the customer relationship, and major software vendors address that aspect of business, as well. Today, with the Internet and a new generation of middleware technologies, these applications are becoming more interactive and readily available. The current generation of business software is moving toward service-oriented architectures (SOA) whereby software functionality is distributed across the network, and invoked on demand by any other software that is enabled to interact with the service.

We mentioned customer relationships above, as a significant ICT application area. Customer relationships in business can be quite sociable. Lunches and golf outings are the proverbial social interactions of the business enterprise. But customer relationship management (CRM) software is anything but an appealing manifestation of sociability. Screens of text and pop-up windows are pretty utilitarian and dry. Still, these relationship management applications, whether the relationships are with customers, suppliers, or employees, are one form of sociable technology.

In recent years we have witnessed a new phenomenon in ICT as the Internet has become virtually ubiquitous. Enabled by the existence of bandwidth, and the standards of the World Wide Web, the technologies known as Web 2.0 have been emerging. People are pretty familiar with blogs, less so with wikis and tagging software. It is hard to avoid Web 2.0 applications that are native to the Web, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Flikr, YouTube, etc.