Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Situated Software

Software designed in and for a particular social situation or context. Clay Shirky explains how this works in practice, with some examples taken from his class at NYU. See discussion here, including sceptical comment by Lucas. See also comments by James Governor.

Situated software resists the traditional software engineering pressure towards generalization, and apparently disregards the economics of scale/scope. Instead it works solely within a collaborative socio-technical system (the "community"); the conditions for the success of the software (including meaning and trust) are co-created by the members of the community.

One of the earliest forms of situated software was the spreadsheet. Power users built themselves complicated structures using Visicalc or Lotus 123 or Excel. These were essentially non-transferable artefacts with many hidden assumptions, but they served a useful purpose within a given context.

This illustrates the fact that situated software is assisted by the existence of tools and platforms that provide generalized support for situated software. This is one interpretation of the software factory idea.

In the Boxer Model of Collaborative Composition, situated software appears to be a clockwise-dominant process, contrasting with the anticlockwise-dominant processes of traditional software engineering.

Related Concepts: Situated Action (Lucy Suchman). Situated Software Architecture (P Taylor).

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