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.