Why do Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Yahoo! 360 et al. leave me cold? It’s the act of retyping my social network and labelling everyone “friend”, “family”, “acquaintance”, “uncategorized” that is deeply unsatisfactory. Finally, someone has explained why …]]>Why do Friendster, Orkut, LinkedIn, Yahoo! 360 et al. leave me cold? It’s the act of retyping my social network and labelling everyone “friend”, “family”, “acquaintance”, “uncategorized” that is deeply unsatisfactory. Finally, someone has explained why!
This great blog entry talks about what’s missing:
Russell’s disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term ‘social networking’ makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it’s not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term ‘social network.’ The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They’re not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That’s why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about ‘socio-material networks’, or just ‘activities’ or ‘practices’ (like I do) instead of social networks.
I know my friends through Perl, through OSCON, through talk.bizarre, through O’Reilly, through specific projects I did with them. We are asked to categorize our friends, which feels weird, but I wonder whether it’d make more sense if we were asked what object/place/occupation connects us to these people it would be better. The friend-of-a-friend network works here, too: the object that connects me to the foaf is a person–the friend we have in common.And as Tim has said you don’t want to be typing all your friend relationships into your social network service. It should be derivable from email. One reason it’s not so easily derivable is that email implicitly tags things with projects, locations, etc. I wonder what a mail client and address book would look like if they were based around the objects that connect people, rather than the messages used to implement the relationship? Oh for Where and OSCON and Euro OSCON to pass so I can hack on some of these ideas!