Cook’s 4C’s of Social Software – a summary


In 2008 Niall Cook published a classification model for social software which focuses on its function rather than the various components or characteristics of it.

This is my attempt to summarise the 4C’s and frame it as a thought process for helping you decide which types of social tools suit the culture of your enterprise.

These 4C’s are :

  • Communication
  • Cooperation
  • Collaboration
  • Connection

Each of these categories provide more meaning when considered within the contexts of the corporate culture you wish to introduce the software. Culture is defined as the unique mix of formality and interaction for the organisation and each of the C’s fits into it’s own cultural quadrant as the graphic below illustrates:

Graphic 4 cs

Cooks 4Cs


  1. Communication – platforms which allow participants to interact with others in an informal and arbitrary fashion either by text, video conference, images or augmentations & combinations of those things.
  2. Connection – these are the technologies which enable participants to connect with information and other participants. Such examples of connection include RSS, mashups, tagging, social networking etc.
  3. Cooperation – this is where participants will contribute and assist others in an informal way. This may be in a structured or unstructured manner and focuses on assisting participants in reaching a common product of interest. Knowledge that is gained from the informal process of helping individuals work towards a common objective is not the goal of cooperation. It is this distinction which separates it from collaboration (below). Such platforms might include social cataloging, media sharing, social bookmarking etc.
  4. Collaboration – these tools encourage participants to collaborate with each other either directly, indirectly and in either distributed or centrally managed ways. The knowledge gained from collaboration is gained from the process of creating something IS the goal of collaboration. Some examples of collaboration software include wikis, human based computation, community developed software etc.

Both Cooperation and Collaboration enable ‘synergy’ and have some over-lap in that both of these categories ultimately enable participants to produce something infinitely better than what they could have produced alone.

In closing I would like to add a little dusting of something special. One lucky student last year was fortunate enough to receive a comment on her blog from ‘the man himself’ who added some sage advice which sums things up just nicely when considering social software for your organisation in my thoughts (this also inter-twines nicely with my previous blog on participation)

“What works for one organisation may not work for another – a lot depends on culture, existing tools and processes, etc. and what you end up finding is a whole bunch of issues that software in itself won’t resolve. Of course, the software vendors won’t tell you this!”

Interested in finding out more, check out the book!