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Manifesto for Social Networking Required

When I blogged "My Social Networks are Broken" in March I had already stopped trying most of the new ones. Now with the flurry of posts round Many to Many I'm watching the implosion of SNS... Will they all just collapse into each other or will something new emerge that is useful, integrated and adaptive to the individual? Stowe's posted "Ten Commandments" which is interesting because I was thinking about a "Manifesto for Social Networks" and haven't had the time to go there yet. I began by digesting Adam Greenfield's and recent Many to Many posts lamenting the lack of new prescriptions.

Before I lose my thoughts or they become dated in the slipstream of fire I'd offer up the following ingredients to take the dialogue up a level strategically. This is not just about spam and e-mail. It is about you and me, and how we connect. When we think social networking services put "individuals" at the center.

It's my Network:

  • That means I want to own it. It's not yours it is mine and it should reside and be under my complete control. If I want to host it other places ok then, but remember it is my choice. I'll distribute my profile and I'll control or agree with my friends what they can do with it. This network is about two-way relationships and in some cases associated relationships. I remember when I was really frustrated that Ryze had changed my page - (I thought not for the better) when they changed their basic layout to tabs and a new logo. Up till then Ryze had done a fairly good job of nurturing the community. New users came along, dressed up their pages, and Ryze was in the background. Similarly remember the uproar when Friendster challenged Fakesters? All of these networks fail to recognize it is my content that makes them valuable and I'll take it elsewhere or simply no-longer use them if they displease me. Account for that in the design and I may just stay.

  • Social networks should empower people. Unfortunately most of the YASN's have forgotten this basic fact. They try and call us back time and time again, unfortunately they just don't. Few exist on our desktops. Most require an open browser. That's not interoperability. As each of these SNS specializes they should consider how to connect. It's ridiculous that I need to build a profile in each service. I have no way to upgrade or make a change. (Sooner or later someone will make that happen - if not done already)

  • I represent the hub of activity and my participation should reflect the logic in "Stupid Networks". My social networking solution will enable me to connect and exchange with family, friends, colleagues. Each one of those may be a different service. I may use them from time to time. I need to be able to log in and out of them from a central point (my desktop or phone). To me these services will act as my agent, I may contract them for one-off searches (eg find everyone I went to school with to find people like me in the market for a new car.) or for something more ongoing and continuous (eg business connections, matchmaking, personal shopper, home handyman etc.) where a personal referral or a tacit referral can make the difference.

  • Simplify and speed trades in data. Referrals and connections are done through either personal exchanges (voice, F2F) or with some form of data. Data is the unheralded, unexplored frontier for social networks. Most of the data is static. The markets for data are limited or non-existent, and as data exchanges aren't yet automated most fail to see the connections and parallels to business.

    At the risk of saying some things twice. I believe we should look outside the current crop of SNS for the SNS of the future. Blogs are a better model, they are distributed (many have them hosted which is ok). Unfortunately there is no profile plug-in (Typepad has an "about" though I've not seen it as special.). Skype like IM (Instant Messenger) systems are better at connecting in real time, provide presence and new opportunities for file and data sharing etc. IMHO this could be modified to be a SNS Manifesto and these are additional points.

    My Blog is Better at Networking:
    I know the humble blog has been held up as a social network many times. From experience my blog is much better than any of the SNS as a networking tool. One advantage my blog has over all the SNS is I can make connections with people that aren't in any network. I've found some of the non-blogger connections to be the most important of all. I've also found following up on trackbacks and comments much more valuable.

    Create Markets for Connectivity:
    Social Networks should look at how they can facilitate markets for conversation and connectivity. The conversations in most Social Networking Services today are stilted and hampered by poor connectivity. Do you really want to link through three other people to get to someone in LinkedIn? Connectivity remains poor because they lack diversity and depth and the mechanisms to harvest both depth and diversity are lacking. So create a market for me where I can trade different kinds of information about myself. Enable bots or search capabilities that can create unique inquiries and then return helpful connections and results. We all have information to trade, the problem is we don't know what to trade. In a networked world those that facilitate markets win. eBay remains the best example I know. However eBay only really applies to hard goods. I'd like to know who is going to broker "the people's" information?

    Adopt user centric models.
    The solution has to work in my hand, when mobile. The only device I carry like that now is a cell phone or possibly future PDA. To jump into this realm the solution must address "Presence". Without presence real-time inquiry is impossible and pointless. Not everyone needs the same presence information. Non of the social networks I'm a member of require "daily use" in stark contrast to my IM clients for my newsreader.

    Encourage Face to Face.
    A few unique relationships may begin without face to face contact. With both blogging and Ryze I made great contacts globally without any early "live" meetings. Yet each time I meet another blogger / networker at a conference or in their home town the relationship takes on new dimensions and presents new opportunities. Other bloggers have expressed the same sentiments. In fact blogging leads to the desire to collaborate, we just don't have the tools to close that gap too easily. Ryze as an example is encourages F2F through their Mixers and that is one of the reasons for their continued success. However when it comes to collaboration tools after or around the blog it remains difficult. Skype has helped bridge the cost gap and thus opened up new avenues for conversation and reflection.

    Integrate with IM / VoIP.

    I've pushed this thread for awhile. The future of communications is changing. Presence is the driver and it will be controlled from wherever you are. The more seamlessly the better. None of the centralized IM systems enable personal control and even Skype requires you to log-in to a cloud. However I expect Skype will enable "clouds" for corporates, and potentially "personal clouds" down the road. For the moment this is a convenient intersection, where converging technologies create a wholely new set of applicatons.

    No to Accelerated Spam:
    Orkut was exciting when it was built. It emerged almost over a weekend. The viral effect in overdrive. By contrast I'm not sure Multiply is having the same effect. It has certainly spammed me with invites although not as many times as others. See also Clay Shirky's comments on spam.

    Where is my demand? It sits between wanting a better address book and better presence information. I feel the capability in my network and the potential for new connections and new value opportunities. However so far the tools don't let me synthesize these very effectively. The system that bridges this has a neat opportunity. I'm going to download Wired Reach again. I still don't know where or how their business model will work. However, I'm up to trying Wired Reach again. You should read Ashish's blog on "What is P2P" and "Beyond Social Networks", the latter I would have missed if I didn't go looking for a Blog. Clearly Ashish gets it. His blogging will bring him more exposure.

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    Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Manifesto for Social Networking Required:

    » Henshall's Manifesto for Social Networks from Get Real
    Stuart Henshall picks up the banner for a social networking manifesto, along the lines of the "Ten Commandments" gauntlet I threw down the other day over at Unbound Spiral. He wants to enlarge the scope of the discussion that has... [Read More]

    » Social networking manifesto from The Power of Many
    Here are the main heads from Stuart Henshall's Manifesto for Social Networking Required at his Unbound Spiral blog: It's my NetworkI own it.Social networks should empower people.I am my own hub.Ease data exchangeMy Blog is Better at NetworkingCreate Ma... [Read More]

    Comments (5)

    John:

    "From experience my blog is much better than any of the SNS as a networking tool."

    I do disagree with the statement that a blog is better as a networking tool. I guess one must define what "networking" is, but if it is meant to be along the same lines as an Orkut or Friendster, then I disagree, and here's why.

    My blog (and any others, I would argue) doesn't have any way to point out the connection I might have through someone who comments on it, or links to it, and that is the most essential characteristic of what is known as 'social networking'.

    What makes an Orkut or Friendster have value for me is being able to come into contact with 2nd or 3rd degree people about who I can rely on a real-life vouching. I have known people who have found jobs, hired people, dated people, and found roomates on both Orkut and Friendster, and what made it different from Craigslist or a blog is the ability to go further and ask the connecting first degree to vouch for that person, which is so obviously important with jobs, dating, roomates, etc.

    Blogs just don't have a mechanism for that. I will agree that blogs might be used as a great communication tool within a certain context, but not in the same way as an Orkut or Friendster can.

    John,
    Of course you are right! I didn't mean to imply that one replaces the other rather that the decentralized nature of blogs may provide some clues.

    You make me think about what networking really is in this context? In the blog world I get a sense of networks some quite tacit and some really explicit. However blogs lack the structural clarity of the SNS and make it more difficult to do should I have 10000 or 1000000 friends.

    I do think blogs can have conversational aspects that try to encourage social networking, however only a few are real hubs and only once in a blue moon do the majority get comments.

    So what would I like? I'd like to try having a blog where I've agreed with friends to share some presence information. You only get it if you log-in, ie you are known to the community. Maybe someone could do something neat with RSS feeds too.

    Thanks for the comment.

    Regarding IM integration.

    I understand that Skype's whole approach is to develop their own protocols. However, when they start wanting to do interoperability between IM clouds, they're going to want something that is standardized and easy to implement. XMPP is one way to go, of course...

    Dina:

    This is a neat post Stuart ! Makes me think of how we really define social networking and our social networks - SNS's like you say make for better 'structure' - but blogs, in my experience, make for more 'meaningful connections'. On an SNS, I can shout out loud that i have so many friends or acquaintances or buddies, i can rank and rate them on several parameters, i can have stats that i could compare and 'compete' with others on. How meaningful is this aspect of SNS's for me - not very i think, apart from a sort of pat on the back on my so-called 'popularity'. When there were few SNS's or when i started networking on them, i must confess they opened up a world to me. Today there are just too many, speaking the same language, making noise rather than meaning. My social network around my blog is always so much more refreshing, at the same time more enduring.

    Stuart, I just got turned on to your blog. Great stuff everywhere and notably in this post. A group I'm advising is building an app that most people would recognize as a personal VPN where the group is of limited size. In many ways it addresses your prescriptions, but in my 34 years of work in communities f2f and virtual, the most important variables to the effectiveness of social entities have been presence, commitment and contribution.

    However brilliant the structure - technical or organizational - what makes a network work is the purpose and active involvement of its members. Networks form organically or out of the selection of an initiator, and their social composition is like the quality of their fuel.

    Linkedin serves me as a locator and somewhat trustworthy profiler. It does not serve my conversations or information sharing. The WELL was and still is a simple environment for focused online conversation that members are willing to pay for. In the commitment and contribution of its members, combined with its diversity of topics, one can get to know people both deeply and broadly. Such conversations reach far beyond profiles and hallway encounters at a conference.

    To this day, many WELL members who are online all day keep a window open on their desktops, dropping in on various conversations and "watering" their social gardens. What's not so great: it's a comparitively closed (but stable) network.

    Blogs are great; like slo-mo conversations open to the public. We are all looking for personal solutions to fit our needs and temperaments, not to mention our pocketbooks. And to that end, we continue to experiment, thank Gopod (the WELL's typo diety).

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