Social applications, simply, are software components that facilitate interaction between members of a social network. Social applications are driven by the connections embodied in the individual social graphs of participants, and as such act as efficient conduits for the spread of information within the network.
While the distinction between “social network” and “social application” may be debated elsewhere, as used here the terms are defined specifically. Read Write Web offers a particularly succinct definition of social application in the context of the business use of social technology:
Here’s an example: Facebook, in general conversation, would most typically be referred to as a social network. Social Vibe’s charitable giving application is one of the thousands of applications available within Facebook. Social Vibe is a social application: It allows Facebook members to turn views of their own profile pages into cash donations that will certainly benefit a charitable cause that they themselves have selected. Note too that while Social Vibe was cited in the example of a social application, social applications aren’t limited to these kinds of discrete applications. Facebook when talking about its software and the native functions it provides to its members is itself a social application.
As established in prior chapters, the definitions actually matter less than being consistent about what is meant by terms like social networks, social graphs, and social applications. Throughout this chapter, the term social application refers to social software and embedded or installed applications within a social context that facilitate social interactions between participants with that network.
The central idea that a social application combines group interaction and capabilities is related to the focus on the special concept of the business and the use of social technology. Suffice it to say that if a particular social activity is not relevant to your business, it’s probably not a good candidate for a sufficient social media alongside the eminent social business programs. Another important point to consider with regard to social applications is that they typically play a role in elevation of or otherwise depend on the presence of an identity, typically expressed through the profiles that define the “nodes” within a social graph.