Social Networking is Broken

March 16, 2004

in Chat & IM, Knowledge Innovation, Ryze, Social Networks, Social Software

This slightly facetious statement: “My social networks are broken… at least I think they are.” reflects my conclusion that the social networks I’ve been playing in are for the most part associative networks. While they have a social element the socializing for the most part takes place by blogs, forums, IM / e-mail, phone and in face to face visits.

After 18 months of experimenting with formalizing relationship structures through Ryze, Orkut Linkedin etc they are really no more useful to me now than before I found them. Oh Orkut is a wonderful place for assembling connections but recently they really suck. Here I am with all these friends and they expect me to recategorize them. Would you try demoting your friends? Try it – see how they like it.

So how broken are they? Well which one should I turn to if I want to contact someone through one of them? If they are on more than one, which messaging system should I use? The newest? The one I contacted them on last time?

So now I have these planetary social networks each with their own orbits spread across the heavens. So while I’ve visited all these places I can’t remember the name of the ship that offloaded me last. That’s about as damming conclusion as any user (dare I say consumer) of the SN product can draw. However, lets face facts. For the most part none of these social networks are on my desktop, unless I happen to have their page open. And then with the exceptions of Ecademy, Tribe and Flickr they don’t let me know whether any of my friends are online or not. As most of the people I really work with either don’t use them or are as sporadic as me I still little chance of finding spontaneity within. They all fail for none of them provide the things I really need.

I saw a post from Stowe Boyd today, planning a review of enterprise social networking services. It made me curious. The dating ones are excluded. For that matter so is MSN, Yahoo, AIM etc from the list. Skype too isn’t included. Some little “scream” at the back of my mind tells me that the bundle of failing social networking services listed in Stowe’s may not get to the heart of solving the enterprise problem. He wrote up Xfire just days ago. I made an association with Skype on it yesterday. No it is not enterprise ready. But others have the conferencing linking capability. I also tried to get my 15 year old son using Xfire. He discarded it in seconds, “I can do this stuff already” — not as neatly I respond, “does it have voice?” — nope, basically end of discussion. Maybe it is only about associating people. However I hope these services will offer something more. For if that is all they are there will be an upcoming backlash.

For the life of me… When is IM not a social networking device? (Have you ever seen a 12 year old girl reconnect her buddies after taking a new name?) That looks like social networking to me. When are introductions by e-mail not social networking. Or a speakerphone call? It’s time to put a stop to categorizing these “things” as social networks. Call them “Associative Networking Tools” or “Structured Association Tools” or something similar. Then you can create a bucket for them. The reason there is no real business model is they are just part of / or component towards building our capabilities to enhance “presence” and connectivity. Most of the friends I network with in this realm also have IM. But step outside and look at the real world and usage is sporadic at best. If we can’t get our friends to adopt one of three messaging systems how can we hope to get them to adopt one of one hundred social networking services? Via Dina this comment from Jenny Levine sums it up.

It’s time to refocus the debate and bring in new functionalities and capabilities. For me that integrates with mobility. There’s a program which I don’t expect to take off any time soon for Nokia 3650′ called Pmatch. pMatch allows 3650 owners to learn of others with similar interests or information, without revealing their own personal, private data. In a similar vein Trepia or AirCQ are using proximity and presence to enhance connections. I know not everyone can make the list. Judith had a list of 100. A readable report can’t cover them all.

What have we learned.

  • We don’t socialize rather only associate through the Orkuts while we socialize using messaging, telephone and face to face visits.
  • The opportunity to connecting through friends is much greater than generally understoood. Some successes have been achieved.
  • Virtual connections mean managing ones connections and presence has never been more important.
  • Structured services are creating problems where there were none before. From categories to access. And designating “artificial” forced levels of buddies or friendship.
  • Fragmenting association systems does not enable better connections.
  • Integration on to my desktop (address book / IM systems) at minimum and preferably into my cellphone is required for there are few you can synch with and while one can upload addresses you can seldom download.
  • The sites themselves are seldom responsible for the association, the connective knowledge is broader than the networking sites. eg blogs, blogrolls, online forums etc.

    Judith Meskill has been encouraging me to dive into her posts on autonomic networks. This wonderful post has some great questions, and left me with the question at the beginning of the post.

    If you utilize one or more of the current entrants in this swell of online SNS offerings [such as LinkedIn, Friendster, Orkut, Ryze, and/or Tribe] – what value, if any, do you derive from them? And, harkening back to the citation with which I started this post, has one [or more] of these services assisted in helping you to successfully reduce the ‘traffic congestion’ at the ‘intersections’ in your life? And, in closing, any insights, comments, or ponderings on the recent and future blurring of lines between ‘wetware,’ ‘software,’ and ‘hardware’ in an infinitely connected wireless world?
    Judith Meskill

    I see this morning that Heath Row is reporting on a discussion of “The Asthetics of Social Networking” at SXSW. Read Molly Steenson’s comments. They may just jell with the above.

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