Monday, March 19, 2007

Social Network Fatigue

Having had the opportunity to do a small project on social networking, I went looking for social networks. This by itself i s ironic, as you know, since social networks come looking for you nowadays. Rather, they jump out at you at every nook and corner of the internet. And span every possible activity, interest or hobby you can espouse.

The Wikipedia lists close to a hundred Social Networking sites here. Many of them have their own myths and stories to tell. Some, like 43 Things aren't what they appear to be. Others such as DontStayIn are surprisingly successful. The best known ones such as Myspace have become infra-dig. The only surprise there is how, with an interface and usability that could have only been created as a learning project, it managed the success it did.

Wikipedia offers a number of very academic measures of social networks - from the obvious, such as Cohesion and Density, to the rather more arcane "Centrality Eigenvector" (a google like measure which makes nodes with more connections more valuable, since you ask!). However most of these are inward looking and serve only to analyze the nature of the network, and not its value. We need some more apparent, external and and ideally measureable parameters to evaluating the true value of social networks.

These could include average time spent, relative importance to users/ centrality to their lives, trust levels, dispersion of the audience/ user base etc. Some of these would lead to clear monetization values for business oriented networks, others would at least establish their utility to the user community. The sheer number of users tell their own story, but I would be wary of the myspace phenomenon - everybody has a myspace page - but fewer and fewer actually use it.

It also seems apparent that we're suffering from Social Networking Fatigue - I mean how many social networks can one subscribe to? Granted, some of them are more subtle - Last FM or Stumble or even Delicious aren't explicit social networks (Hence Social Networking as a feature probably works better than Social Networking as an objective). But in the past few weeks I've been invited to a social network for Movies, one for Books, one for writing, one for photographs, and the list keeps growing. I do use Flickr, Linked In and have enjoyed exploring Second Life. But where will it all end? And each of the new ones want you to log in to your Hotmail account and invite every single one of your contacts. How unreal is that?

One of the innovations we need is a Social Network Interface Definition - something that allows users to create their own interests, in a private space and will allow them to share selected information with multiple networks based on permission and without entering additional information. I mean, I entered my favourite movies when I created my profile on Blogger, surely there should be a way of sharing that same list with Flixter?

Here's to web 3.0 then, when we can enter all information just once and then share, network, and reuse promiscuously!


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