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From social machines to social protocols: Software engineering foundations for sociotechnical systems

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The overarching vision of social machines is to facilitate social processes by having computers provide administrative support. We conceive of a social machine as a sociotechnical system (STS): a software-supported system in which autonomous principals such as humans and organizations
interact to exchange information and services. Existing approaches for social machines emphasize the technical aspects and inadequately support the meanings of social processes, leaving them informally realized in human interactions. We posit that a fundamental rethinking is needed to incorporate accountability, essential for addressing the openness of the Web and the autonomy of its principals.

We introduce Interaction-Oriented Software Engineering (IOSE) as a paradigm expressly suited to capturing the social basis of STSs. Motivated by promoting openness and autonomy, IOSE focuses not on implementation but on social protocols, specifying how social relationships, characterizing
the accountability of the concerned parties, progress as they interact. Motivated by providing computational support, IOSE adopts the accountability representation to capture the meaning of a social machine’s states and transitions.

We demonstrate IOSE via examples drawn from healthcare. We reinterpret the classical software engineering (SE) principles for the STS setting and show how IOSE is better suited than traditional software engineering for supporting social processes. The contribution of this paper is a new
paradigm for STSs, evaluated via conceptual analysis.