Is social software selfish software?

I spent a great couple of days this week discussing ideas around Social Software with some people who are researching, developing and thinking about it. A lot has been discussed under a blanket NDA however so unfortunately no names or product mentioned here.A really interesting comment that came up which I hadn’t really thought about too much before, was that social software is inherently selfish software. The idea behind this is that ultimately the tools and mechanisms that drive social software adoption are really self serving. The beauty of course is that why social software works is that my selfish behaviour drives a collective good, but ultimately it’s selfish.Let’s consider a few of these:

  • Technorati lets blog authors track their authority and relevance. Why do I ping them, because it lets me know who’s linking to me.
  • Tagging of any form — tagging is about helping me find me content again.
  • Blogging — because it’s the easiest way to (be heard; say something; speak to a crowd; insert your reason here).

The feedback mechanism that encourages users to participate on most social software type sites is also a selfish one in the sense the reward you derive is a personal satisfaction. How many comments did I get? How many friend requests? How many notifications? How many links and ping-backs? Would you keep blogging if no-one read what you had to say?I went searching to find some sites that support this idea, but didn’t come up with too many standouts, however I did like this one:

If I re-word selfishness, I’d say it’s self-reward that promotes the use of social software. The best social software promotes me to interact and share with others because there is a direct link to a personal reward.