SOS: Social Operating Systems


If you read Wired magazine, you probably have come across their section called "Jargon Watch." The issue I'm reading now (you can check it out online too) includes the term Social Operating System which they define as "a social network site like Facebook or MySpace that seamlessly integrates activities, including entertainment and shopping, to become a platform for online living.”

Most of know operating systems (OS) as a set of computer programs that manage the hardware and software resources of a computer - such as Windows or Mac OS X. So how is something like Facebook an OS?

Before we move on, mash this up with something I heard in the latest This Week in Tech podcast episode where they were looking at Facebook as a kind of little Google innovating and connecting and now buying up other companies. You'll hear talk of Google and Facebook becoming "operating systems" on many sites. Facebook just acquired Parakey which is self-described as "a platform for building applications that merge the best of the desktop and the Web."

You may not think of Facebook as something that can be used educationally or professionally, but others disagree with that opinion - see these ways to use Facebook professionally.

Back in May, Facebook began being talked about as being an operating system with other web apps integrated with it. They released their own Facebook Query Language and started developing their own web servers.

Now, every time you log on to Facebook, you find another widget or application is available. Most of them are for fun (tarot, trivia...) but that will change.

So, people are starting to seriously talk about something like Facebook become a Personal Learning Environment? (BTW, I cannot consider MySpace - despite Wired's definition - as being a contender here since that site is such a design mess).

PLEs are systems that allow learners take control of and manage their own learning by providing support to set learning goals, manage content and and communicate with others in the process of learning.

PLEs may be a desktop application, or composed of web-based services. They would allow the the integration of both formal and informal learning experiences. Social networks, especially ones that can cross institutional boundaries, (Facebook rather than Blackboard) come closer to the ideal.

The Elgg system, which works well with a Learning Management System like Moodle, might be a good example of this.

So, would an a social operating system be a mashup of all these things? Would the ideal SOS be one where a learner would select all the tools & applications she needed and not necessarily just accept the ones selected for her by the teacher? Could the learner select the content he wanted or needed?

Will sites like Facebook move towards becoming learning environments, or will learning environments like Moodle, Elgg, Blackboard move towards social networking? There evidence of movement in both those directions now. The former feels more "open" right now, but with open source learning management systems like Moodle or Sakai adding blogs, wikis, RSS feeds and other tools, perhaps the commercial players will be left behind.

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