Social system

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Social system is a central term in sociological systems theory. The term draws a line to ecosystem, biological organisms, psychical systems and technical systems. They all form the environment of social systems. Minimum requirements for a social system is interaction of at least two personal systems or two persons acting in their roles. The first who formulated a systematic theory of social systems was Talcott Parsons where it was a part of his AGIL paradigm yet the social system is only a segment (or a "subsystem") of what Parsons calls action theory;[1] however, Vilfredo Pareto had used the term "social system" earlier but only as a sketch and not as an overall analytical scheme in the sense of Parsons.

Jay Wright Forrester describes three counterintuitive behaviours as important: causes from symptoms are often far removed in time and space, identifying leverage points, conflicting short and long-term consequences.[2]

Approaches of Parsons and Luhmann[edit]

In sociological systems theory there is a controversy what kind of structural elements a social system consists of. For Talcott Parsons it is actions, while Niklas Luhmann considers communication processes which constitute a social system. Though communication is also an action (e.g. speech acts) and on the surface this seems to be a discussion about terms only, the selection of basic terms has theoretical and empirical consequences.

Social systems and digital/online worlds[edit]

Social systems sciences is a loose term for engineered environments which, if successful, attract users to participate. The advent of computers and the internet has enabled new types of social systems to take form.

There are multiple methods of measuring participation within a social system. Reach, engagement, frequency of participation – all tell something about the success of a social system.

All social systems have commonalities. One is that they become more fun and interesting as more people play and participate. Another is that with each iteration, or version, very quickly the population or interest reaches a plateau.

Indeed, the world is one large social system, split into many smaller social systems.

  • Digital social systems
  • Virtual worlds
  • Role-playing games as social systems

When the Internet first reached the hands of the populace, people took the existing model of dungeons and dragons and created their own digital versions of the worlds once played by people in their living rooms and basements. These first text-based online role-playing games attracted people who enjoyed the social aspect of battling for gold and riches. Hundreds of new worlds sprouted up. Some of these worlds were designed more successfully than others. In terms of reach, some of these worlds supported thousands of users, while some only tens to hundreds.


DragonRealms was a highly regulated, highly immersive experience. Through a system where progression was based not only on fighting and questing within the world, it also depended on contribution to the world itself. To advance, an adventurer was required to role-play, or act their character at all times. DragonRealms had a particularly high administrator to player ratio, approximately one administrator for every player. This made it possible for the admins to silently watch the players. Players would be awarded by admins with ‘favor points’ for creative advancement. Every five levels, a player would need 1 favor point to progress. In DragonRealms, there were five main guilds (Inquisitor, Red gauntlet,...). Each of these guilds had a role in the world. Alliances were formed, betrayed. Favor points could also be used by guilds to build in the world. Special weapons, abilities, and castles, unique to the favor point wielder, were granted by the admins. At the height of this world, an average of 1300 players were interacting with this world.

This system was highly engaging; most players spent multiple hours per day in this world. Eventually though, the costs associated with moderating such a game were too much for the creators and the game was taken offline.

Virtual world evolution[edit]

These role-playing games took popular aspects from thousands of MUDs, and built a graphic interface around them. With each successive iteration and advance in graphics, these games became more interesting, and addictive.

Ultima Online (UO)[edit]

By 1996 Ultima Online's simple, 2-D graphic interface served some 50,000 daily users.


By 2000 EverQuest became the first virtual world to reach 500,000. By 2000 this number ballooned to almost over two million users. Because of the addictive nature of the game, and the amount of time needed to be a Hero in this world, the game was coined[by whom?] EverCrack.

World of Warcraft (WoW)[edit]

World of Warcraft was launched in November 2004. Within two months, WoW had surpassed EverQuest for largest virtual world. Within a year, over 10 million people were paying a monthly subscription fee to take part in this environment. WoW took many ideas from EverQuest, while fixing many of the aspects that frustrated users. It has now released its fifth expansion pack named "Mists of pandaria"

Second Life[edit]

Second Life

Second Life was different from the role-playing virtual worlds. The progression system was not on fighting monsters and battling opponents. Instead, Second Life aimed to represent the real world. Players could build homes, islands, open businesses, casinos. Players could design clothing, actions, dance moves by using an open source design. By selling or renting their creations, users could get ‘rich’ and be successful in this virtual worlds. While some[who?] expected Second Life to be wildly popular, as of 2008, Second Life homes some three million players, only 200,000 of which are online at a given time. This is less than 1/5 the number of players as World of Warcraft.

Social Media_me and other social media systems

Social networks[edit]

e.g. Friendster, Facebook, Myspace, Orkut, Stumbleupon, Wallop, Twitter

See also[edit]


  • Talcott Parsons 1970. The System of Modern Societies, New York
  • Talcott Parsons 1977. Social Systems and the Evolution of Action Theory, New York
  • Talcott Parsons 1978. Action Theory and the Human Condition, New York


  1. ^ Parsons, T. (1951). The social system. New York: Free Press.
  2. ^ Forrester, Jay. 1971. Counterintuitive behavior of social systems. chapter VI. Technology Review 73(3): 52–68

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