Social computing, trust and social capital

Increasingly, people are looking to each other, rather than corporations, for news, guidance, advice and support. A lack of trust in large organisations, and a general sociological move towards bottom-up networks of support has grown in recent years.

Society and computing technologies have influenced each other, and continue to do so. Social computing: from social informatics to social intelligence by Wang et al (2007), consider a move away from information to intelligence in social computing. Large corporations like Amazon and EBay, among others have moved away from what they recommend for you, to what other people have done. Not, ‘here’s what we think you might like’, but, ‘here’s what other customers bought’.

“Netflix’s recent…competition is one indication of the significance and business value of improving recommendation quality.” (Wang at al, 2007)

Many other websites have adopted platforms ‘for the consumer community to share experiences collectively and influence their purchasing behaviour’; for example Vanish, where consumers swap tips on how which of the product range works best for specific stains.


Social media platforms have changed the dynamic between organisations and consumers forcing companies to adopt. Companies can no longer control the discussion about their brand (see Waddington & Earl, 2012 or this old blog post).

In the public sector ‘people are increasingly connecting with online…communities.’ Newman et al (2011)

I believe that the move to online communities is a symptom of what I describe above. Particularly in health where often people who have lived with an illness become the ‘expert’ on their disease, it really makes sense for them to seek advice and support from each other rather than the medical professional. Particularly, as Newman et al found with “emotional support when dealing with difficult health issues.”

I believe that in both the private and public sector ICT and society have influenced each other to create platforms where people’s opinions are of more value than large corporation (for different reasons). Previously my research has been around using social media to enact civil society for improving communication, participation and engagement between communities of individuals and local governments.

Social computing and innovation; creating or reinventing platforms to empower people to share their opinions, knowledge and advice, is an area where I hope to shape my future research. It was interesting to hear Newman’s perspective on the creation of social capital through online health communities.


Newman, M. W., Lauterbach, D., Munson, S. A., Resnick, P., & Morris, M. E. (2011, March). ‘It’s not that i don’t have problems, I’m just not putting them on Facebook: challenges and opportunities in using online social networks for health’. In Proceedings of the ACM 2011 conference on Computer supported cooperative work (pp. 341-350). ACM.

Waddington, S., & Earl, S. (2012). Brand Anarchy: Managing Corporate Reputation. A&C Black.

Wang, F. Y., Carley, K. M., Zeng, D., & Mao, W. (2007). Social computing: From social informatics to social intelligence. Intelligent Systems, IEEE, 22(2), 79-83.

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