Category Archives: The Network

Categorizing Social Networking Sites

This is part of a response that I wrote to Eric Nehrlich’s post, ” Affordances of social software”.

The question at hand is… why do I have a gut feeling that it’s “better” to build a social networking site through providing people with fun tasks, rather than just a place to gather? Looking at some of my favorite sites, I’ve come up with a categorization scheme:

LiveJournal, Flickr, MySpace and others are social networking sites that grew out of helping people accomplish a particular task that happens to be much more fun when you are doing it with other people.

Facebook, Friendster, Tribe.net and even LinkedIn are sites that grew out of the desire to build connections with each other and talk and link up. Now all those sites are adding features like blogs, customized pages, answers sections, RSS feed aggregators, time-based organization of things you’re looking for, and, in the case of Facebook, “applications”. Fundamentally, though it’s harder to figure out what you can do there because it’s mostly “just hang out”.

Twitter is a hybrid that falls more in the second category than the first, since being the only user of Twitter doesn’t get you any benefits, whereas you could be the only LiveJournal user you know and still have a great blogging tool that allows you to get stuff out to the world.

One can also consider MMORPG’s to be a form of social networking – those games that have a clear introduction and player goals tend to be easier to pick up and more “fun” than games where the world is infinite and anything could be important – I’m thinking World of Warcraft vs. Second Life. I know more far people who tried Second Life but never got off the starter island than people who tried World of Warcraft and quit before their character got to level 4.

There’s more to this – perhaps even a conclusion. But now I’m off to interact with some meat-humans.

Is it really good to know who’s watching?

A few months ago, I read that MySpace or Facebook, or one of those sites, released a tracking feature – you could see who had visited your page and when. This backfired pretty badly because (a) people were creeped out when they saw that strangers were coming to their page over and over and (b) people got mad at their friends for not hanging onto their every update. So they pulled the whole tracker concept.

Now Facebook has introduced this feature that shows you what people on your network are up to (e.g. “added a new application”, “changed their profile”, etc) which has been driving people away somewhat (my 22-year-old cousin said “I guess I’m too old – I find this thing a bit invasive. I don’t really want everyone to know what I’m doing.”)

I don’t know how I would feel about a tracker on Flickr – would it be more like seeing who came into my open studio space, or would it be stalking? Would I want strangers to know I had gone to their pages? What would I want to know about someone before leaving my calling card at their open studio space? What about you?

And once I know who is visiting my stream, would I want to, say, restrict those visitors? For example, should I be able to forbid all Flickr users who are members of certain groups, or who have certain tags in their streams, or certain friends, from seeing my stream?