Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Danah Boyd: Defining social networking

Danah Boyd, as always, has an interesting conversation happening on her blog. I'm posting my response here, in a little more detail. There's a number of other thoughtful responses on her blog as well, so I encourage you to check that out.

So what is a social network?

As a general rule, I use the term "social media" to encompass the broad range of technologies that provide a feedback loop. This includes blogs, collaborative publishing sites, forums, and social networking sites. These media forms allow for a feedback loop

I view social networking sites as a subset of social media. They are different for the following reasons:

1. They have different requirements than other types of social media, for example, social networking sites require a profiling or identity management system

2. They focus on "me" the user--in fact the draw to social networking sites is "me," whereas the draw to say forums or blogs is usually a specific topic or conversation.

3. The intent is different. I use social networking sites to connect with people I know, and occasionally meet some new people. With forums, blogs, wikis, etc., my intent is to learn something new or to contribute information.

Those are just a few thoughts. If you have others, please feel free to share.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Social networks: An ancient way of communicating

Courtesy of BusinessWeek, here's yet another reminder that the social web is not new—it's just a different form of an old way of communicating:

“For thousands of years before communications became industrialized, people chose a bakery or blacksmith based on word-of-mouth recommendations, reputation, and social networks … So today, as a new set of community thttp://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifechnologies develop on the Internet, we should not be surprised to discover that the sociology of how we buy isn't new at all. In fact, it is as old as civilization. Today's markets will come to resemble these pre-industrial markets, with some major exceptions. Our pre-industrial ancestors were constrained by time and distance in developing opinions about vendors. But in the post-industrial world, reputation, relationships, and recommendations can come at any time from anywhere to affect a purchase decision.”

Theorist Brian Massumi might refer to this as a technology of “emergent experience,” (Parables of the Virtual: Movement, Affect, Sensation, p.192) in that these virtual spaces have the ability to “connect and interfuse different spheres of activity on the same operational plane,” thus potentially creating a new effect, such as in the form of a relationship or an experience.

While we traditionally think of community in geographic terms, online communities rely less on space location and more on the defining element of common interests, which might be called interest location. That means that involvement requires presence in interest rather than presence in physical location.

Massumi talks about proprioception, or a sixth sense, and I think this is vital to online communities. That's because it's not an issue of finding one’s way in a physical space where one may not be oriented, but rather, how one finds one’s way through an online community. If this space is mapped by common interest rather than space, then finding one’s way takes on an entire new meaning. The question that arises, is how one finds their way to those who share common interests.

So what does that all mean if you're trying to build a community? It means that the interaction design is vital to its success. Elements such as profiling, navigation, and interaction functionality all contribute to your community's success. So don't ignore them. Enlist some serious UX folks who know the ins and outs of community and who can create that space in which those with common interests can share.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Social Media to Rock Web

Its' always interesting to read the tech press in January, when all of the predictions come out for the year ahead. The latest comes from vnunet.com, who has declared that in 2008, social media will rock the web.

I don't doubt it—-after all, social media has been gaining ground for 20 years now, and I have yet to witness many naysayers. Yes, there are those who are afraid of social media, specifically organizations who don't care to listen to their consumers, but overall, it's hard to challenge the human need to connect, which is the core of social media.

I specifically liked this part of vnunet's prediction:

"Traditional models for businesses to research their consumers are also expected to change. Customer information will be enriched by data found on the social web to supersede traditional research tools such as questionnaires and focus groups. Feedback and influence from social networks will ultimately become more significant factors in the purchasing decision cycle."

It's that combination of objective data exposed to the consumer, combined with subjective consumer feedback that is compelling. No matter what the product or service, there's always a way to feed this information to the user and then to open the loop so that they can respond. Amazon is so good at this. But when you look at your (or your client's) product or service, think about what data may provide meaning and how you can enable that feedback loop.