Death is an unusually severe and degrading punishment, but sometimes it serves a higher purpose – and the death of personal computing is a great example. Because the potential of its replacement and successor, Social Computing, is exponentially greater.
Much has been made, recently, of the amorphous term "Web 2.0" and even Jeremy Zawodny, a leading blogger, is so challenged by its elasticity that he's just asked his readers "What the heck is Web 2.0 anyway?"
Zawodny's question spawned the usual selection of knee-jerk responses, but one very nearly nailed it:
"I think Web 2.0 is really more of a philosophical concept than a technical one. People always refer to open source, AJAX, perpetual betas, etc. as cornerstones of Web 2.0, but really there's only one common thread between things as diverse as YouTube, Twitter, Flickr, blogs, and social networks:
They connect people and are driven by people.
I know I'm not the first to use the term, but I think Web 2.0 is 'The Living Web'. This includes 'old' technology like web forums, IRC, and even Usenet. They connected people and were driven by people...the original UGC in some ways!"
"Driven by people" though still doesn't quite, for me anyway, pinpoint the essence of social computing, which is the coalescence of collective intelligence (a tried and true concept) with the sudden (and much newer) maturing of various co-technologies such as feeds, tagging, trackbacks, photosharing, wikis, and the like.
Such "co-technologies" are to Social Computing what HTTP, TCP/IP, and View Source are to the World Wide Web – the technical glue that makes it cohere.
The result is that we are seeing the emergence of what Warren G. Bennis inspirationally called "Great Groups." Bennis was fascinated by what he called "The myth of the triumphant individual," which he felt was deeply ingrained into the American psyche.
"Yet we all know that cooperation and collaboration grow more important every day," Bennis wrote, continuing:
"The problems we face are too complex to be solved by any one person or any one discipline. Our only chance is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines who can refract a problem through the prism of complementary minds allied in common purpose."
He called such collections of talent "Great Groups" and went on to note:
"The genius of Great Groups is that they get remarkable people -- strong individual achievers -- to work together to get results. But these groups serve a second and equally important function: they provide psychic support and personal fellowship. They help generate courage. Without a sounding board for outrageous ideas, without personal encouragement and perspective when we hit a roadblock, we'd all lose our way."
Social Computing leverages, through technology, the genius of groups. It is as simple, and as wonderful, as that.
Does this truly equal the death of personal computing? Well now of course I don't beleve for a moment that it does. Even though as long ago as 1994 I had the good fortune to publish Groupware in the 21st Century, the first ever comprehensive essay collection devoted to the phenomenon recognized (and named) by Peter & Trudy Johnson-Lenz back in 1978 when they coined the term, I don't actually contend that groupware supplants singleware.
But I do on the other hand truly, madly, deeply believe that their notion of groupware as 'a whole system of intentional group processes plus software to support them' is finally, through Social Computing, becoming a reality...but with the Web as the platform, rather than the PC.
Social Computing, though it is a computer-mediated culture, is a living system, shaping itself to support evolving group life, including that of Great Groups. Web-augmented dialogs among those holding diverse viewpoints on the critical questions and issues of our time represent, many of us believe, the hope of creating a better future for our children and our children's children.
"None of us," as the bumper sticker says, "is as smart as all of us."