Musings about social networks

Alan Patrick, in a comment on a recent post of mine, asks “JP, why do you think F/B communities will be any more likely to be see each other socially more than previous Social Nets?”. What I had said was the following:

[Facebook] is different from other cyber-communities in a very real way.

How come? My guess is that Facebook friends see each other a lot more often than was the case in other communities. It is rooted in physical relationship rather than just electronic. The interactions are therefore a lot richer.

Let me try and answer as best I can. The summarised answer is simple. Because things like LinkedIn and Plaxo were networks but not really social networks. At least that’s my contention. Talking about contention…..

At the outset, please recognise that there is no scientific basis for what I am saying, just some very unscientific observations. Call it a hunch if you will.

Observation 1: The world seemed to be divided into three groups of people. (a) Those who used stuff like Bebo and MySpace and Cyworld (b) Those who used stuff like Plaxo and LinkedIn and Xing (c) Those who did neither.

Observation 2: These three groups of people were mutually exclusive, often age-bound and displaying quite different “interaction” tendencies. The MySpace people interacted with each other regularly, often more than once a day. The LinkedIn people only got in touch with each other in time of need, usually job-related. And the Neither people kept themselves to themselves and didn’t approve of such goings-on anyway.

Observation 3:  You couldn’t really call things like LinkedIn “social networks”. Yes they were networks, but they weren’t “social”. There was something fundamentally different about the way people used MySpace or Bebo, in comparison to LinkedIn or Plaxo. Nobody in their right mind would call a Rolodex a social network. A collection of names and addresses, yes, but not much more. Very useful in keeping names and addresses and contact details up to date, but not much else. A heavy user of LinkedIn was probably called a “networker” and avoided like the plague by his friends. I’m sure you’ve been there.

Observation 4: When Facebook opened its doors to all and sundry, something strange happened. People who belonged to the LinkedIn group suddenly had somewhere to go. Somewhere “to be social”. The great coffee shop in the sky. Now the groups began to move around.
All this made me think. Why was Facebook different? The people that connected to me were different. LinkedIn was all professional, whereas Facebook was all and sundry. The e-mail content was different. LinkedIn was primarily three types of mail: Introductions, Looking for Work, Looking to Hire. A job market. Whereas Facebook was truly social. The richness of interactions was different. The number of interactions per day was different. There were times when I would not log on to LinkedIn for a few months, this never happened with Facebook.

I then looked deeper into my Facebook interactions, as well as those of people around me; my family, my co-workers, my friends, my community, whatever. It was then that I realised that the Facebook community was different, that Facebook people tended to connect with each other differently.

Facebook was, in effect, MySpace for the LinkedIn generation.

Now LinkedIn users seemed to be from a fairly narrow socio-economic grouping. Which would suggest that we’re also going to see a plethora of studies on the population of Facebook, deriving what could be startling socio-economic grouping and exclusion statistics. There is a birds-of-a-feather effect which, in its most extreme forms, will lead to tribalism. We need to watch this carefully. As an example, I would expect to see very high correlation between Netvibes  users and Facebook over-25 users.

One thought on “Musings about social networks”

  1. JP

    Like you, I never saw Linked In, Plaxo et al as “Social Networks” – they are certainly networks of humans and thus (very probably) obey the same Small World / Scale Free laws of such networks but their purpose – and thus dynamics – is different.

    Bebo, MySpace et al however are Social Nets, and (in my recollection anyway) they *started off* as groups of friends who knew each other – but then the “virtual friending process” starts and after a year or so the average buddy list is full of people who you’ve never met – and maybe wouldn’t accept as friends if you did?

    In other words my hypothesis would be that F/B now will be a different experience in 1 year’s time once this process operates there as well.

    One note I’ d make (being an Old Net Head) is that the “Web 1.0” SocNets like Yahoo Groups for eg (in my experience anyway) fostered quite a lot of “real life” socialisation once enough interaction had occurred. However, I do not see anything like the transaction traffic on F/B that I see on a typical Group

    One hypothesis I also have is that the reason F/B has had such media exposure (in the UK anyway) is because it has been colonised by the (30-something) “chattering classes” to a level that the previous social nets have not – ie its all old news to the kids, but then they don’t write for national newspapers or TV stations.

    Also, the other “Social Nets” that tend to be forgotten here they are the games – World of Warcraft, RuneScape et al are played by friendships groups acting as teams, and (my kids) entire class play in particular worlds – more so they can IM each other than anything else.

Let me know what you think

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.