Why Social Computing Is So Hard: The Social-Technical Gap Between Technically Working and Socially Workable


August 10, 2010


Over the last 20 years, Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) has identified a base set of findings. These findings are taken almost as assumptions within the field. In summary, they argue that human activity is highly flexible, nuanced, and contextualized and that computational entities such as information transfer, roles, and policies need to be similarly flexible, nuanced, and contextualized. However, current systems cannot fully support the social world uncovered by these findings. This talk argues there is an inherent gap between social requirements and technical mechanisms: The social-technical gap is the divide between what we know we must support socially and what we can support technically. Exploring, understanding, and hopefully ameliorating this social-technical gap is the central challenge for CSCW and social computing as intellectual endeavors, and it is also one of the central problems for Human-Computer Interaction in general. The talk also considers CSCW (and social computing) as a potential Simonian science of the artificial, so as to uncover potential ways around the gap.


Mark Ackerman

Mark Ackerman is a professor at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, with a joint appointment in the School of Information and the Division of Computer Science and Engineering in the College of Engineering. Mark has published widely in Computer-Supported Cooperative Work, Social Computing, and Human-Computer Interaction. Areas of interest include collaborative information access, expertise finding and sharing, online communities, privacy, and, increasingly, pervasive computing. Largely in recognition of his efforts to combine technical research with social analysis, Mark was elected to the CHI Academy in 2009. Before joining Michigan, Mark was an associate professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a research scientist at MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science. He has also been a product engineer, working on Atari 2600 games, home banking, and the X11 Window System.