The social network is us

Facebook, mySpace, Bebo, O2, Vodafone are all just rough approximations of the underlying social network that links humans together.

Humans still power the Internet. The biggest search and advertising company in the world marked themselves from the crowd by powering itself on human people connecting bits of information. Google became big because of links. Their pagerank and their famous top secret always-changing algorithm found out the relationships between webpages and websites and came up with a much better way of categorising information online from this. But it was humans that did the initial linking. A link is a human tieing data together.

What started off with the likes of Friendster moved on to mySpace, Bebo, Facebook and now Twitter. Funnily enough many of them got bigger by connecting people that were already connected via email. The network already existed. Bebo, Facebook and Twitter allow you to trawl your address book and find people in there that are already on their services and then make connection requests to them. All they’re doing is taking all the existing connections and stuffing them into their network too. We’re all in social networks already, technology in a way just highlights them more, like Google maps highlight existing routes.

Adding to your network

What makes these social networks more sticky though? Well it’s much easier to share photos, videos and music and leave comments and all in public. You add the media to your profile and everyone connected to you can see it. A bit like a blog though stickier. Much better than pressing the forward button or composing an email ain’t it? These networks really to me are not so much building new groups but increasing data transfer and sharing between existing groups.

I don’t think I added someone to Facebook because I valued their input in some Facebook group we were both in or actually liked their taste in music after looking at their likes and dislikes on their profile. I more than likely added them because of an existing relationship even if it was a weak one. Weak ones being we were at a conference, I saw them speak or they saw me, they read my blog and feel they know me that way, we emailed each other once about something etc. etc. The social networks take any and all connections/relationships and lasso them into your network and sometimes they add great value to these connections but sometimes not.

Shorter bursts in more locations
Facebook is doing no more than accentuating existing relationships I have with people and there certainly is value with that but as can be seen by many, people are moving their short-term attention to other things. The status update on Facebook was good and was a nice improvement over other social networks but now it seems that people are more into using twitter to send 140 character updates to people and Twitter is allowing you to update when you’re on the go with their text message capabilities. Luckily Twitter can ypdate Facebook. This can be seen by people using Facebook to display their Twitter status as their Facebook status. It’s keeping all those they’re connected to updated even when they are not on Facebook itself. I’m sure Facebook don’t mind as they are still the core and that’s where your social network is mostly stored but a new network is forming around Twitter too. It’s funny that in the age of infinite data and the ability to share it, most of us are happy with the amount exchanged in a text message.

twitter status

Twitter is the next step really, it’s making your stored social network more mobile. Half the world have mobiles now. A quarter have a computer. Now that the uptime issues are sorted a little bit more, Twitter is less annoying but it’s totally crippled. It pretty much does what it did a year ago. A text box and in it you update your friends on what you’re doing in 140 characters or less. Their main competitor is Jaiku which is much better except it lacks what social networks live and die by – people. The usual feature elitists insist that Jaiku is better (it is) but still think that alone will mean people will move over. It won’t. Features don’t matter unless they make people communicate and share more. Given the scenario of a social network with lots of features but with a small audience compared to a mass audience with sfa features will win. More people communicating is more attractive (and valuable) than less people sharing ore. Jaiku is turning into a ghost town as it is and people are moving on so we see the Jaikuistas coming back to twitter while knocking it. Ironically they are able to spread their “Twitter is shit, Jaiku is great” message to a wider audience via Twitter than Jaiku. Jaiku is dead. Maybe all those dimwitted nearsighted people building new social networks will cop on to that. Unless you can offer the influentual people to move over then you’re dust. Heya Nimble, how goes?

But yet nobody is doing mobile
Still for all this mobile talk, mobile has yet to be exploited. O2 is a social network that makes money when people update each other. So is Vodafone. Sure there are mobile versions of networks based on your email addresses. However my contacts list in my mobile does not connect to a social network. The data shared between me and the people on my phone are texts or phonecalls. And they’re pay to play. I have a social network with 531 contacts and it’s pretty dull. Jaiku has a mobile client that can make that come alive yet Google has never done anything to expand on that since they acquired them. The iPhone and Apple could easily do something like this since everytime you synch it with the computer it backs up the contacts.

Photo owned by alazaat (cc)

The future
There’s a lot of life still left in social networks but I don’t see Facebook or Twitter as the future because social networks have existed before technology and all technology can do is enchance these relationships. They might boost us past the Dunbarr number and allow us to interact with more people without getting relationship fatigue but right now they are still lacking. Not all of the people on our real social network are able to be added just yet, are they? Not that they want to be but the option should be there though. Still with so much left to do to match our real social networks to these rough representations called Facebook and Bebo it means there are lots of opportunities in the field still. Bring it.

12 Responses to “The social network is us”

  1. D says:

    Excellent analysis 🙂

  2. Mr T says:

    I’d be interested in a convergence of IM + Twitter +Social Netwroks

  3. Darragh says:

    Excellent article Damien. Forwarded it on to a number of people.

    You’re right about mobile web and the need to exploit it more. I’m just exploring twitter, but with sharing music, photos, qik and everything there’s so much there that is still to come. I look forward to some site or service bringing all of this together.

    Of course it begs the question do people know what they can do with their mobiles – my guess is no.

  4. Niall Larkin says:

    Feeling the resonance here. Existing social networks are poor mirrors of real work interaction and autistic in the way the direct people to interact. Content is not king. Connection and communication are king. Always have been. Content is just something to talk about. The mobile phone connects and mediates communcaition, is the social tools of first resort and will have to be at the heart of a social network that not only mirrors but is a living part of the reality of ever changing dynamic social lives and relationships.

    You can step in as spokesperson and evaneglist for Relevant M whenever you like. I’ll pay you when we take the first million 😉

  5. Ciaran says:

    There is some discussion on this here that you might be interested in.

  6. Damien says:

    It kind of proves my point alright, thanks.

  7. Maman Poulet says:

    ah we are so removed from facilitated conversations or are we? Those were the days.

  8. […] over on Jaiku on a conversational thread that spun off from something Damien Mulley said in passing here “Twitter is for the socially inept. You cant carry on any kind of conversation there, and […]

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  11. Neal McQuaid says:

    Ah, an issue close to my heart at one point 🙂

    Some of it is inertia from the public regarding the knowledge of making their phone do more (how many people do you know that just wants a phone that calls and texts?), some of it is a complete lack of enthusiasm from the mobile telcos.
    After working with one of the Big Two mobile groups in Ireland, I spent 6 months from mid 2006 onwards trying to get people there into the idea of Jaiku and it’s presence-based system. I was in the R&D department and it STILL took me over 5 weeks to persuade 15 people to sign up and try it out. And we had unlimited data plans and free bills for testing so couldn’t even use the excuse that it was too expensive back then (about 10MB a month for Jaiku if you’ve the presence app installed if I remember correctly).
    Anyone I showed Jaiku on mobile to at the time thought it was the neatest thing ever however so there’s hope.
    However, the Joe Public isn’t going to try it if the mobile people aren’t going to even consider it either. Having said that, once they were on the system, some of them actually saw the potential.

    Text, IM, Twittering/Jaiku-ing (I want Jaiku to win over, but am realistic enough that at present time, it’s dead in the water – Twitter has the momentum), whatever. They’re all just extensions of each other – and our social links.
    Part of that last sentence is also the issue – there’s too many options. Add on Skype, landline voice, mobile voice, and the multitude of others I’m too lazy to write, and people just won’t take to them until there’s less to choose from. It’s o.k. for the likes of us tech addicts.

    Great write-up Damien, pretty much says it all. Let’s hope somebody in some company gets the ball rolling….

  12. […] Damien raises an interesting point about Jaiku and something that I’ve been trumpeting over the last six months or so. It’s all about where the conversation is happening. And right now, that’s on Twitter.The Jaiku Irish contingent can complain, but even their admitting that Twitter is beating Jaiku when it comes to the range and depth of contacts. How? Well, aren’t they the ones that are painfully kicking off this Twitter v Jaiku discussion at least once a week? Over on Twitter, amongst my list of contacts I don’t hear similar moans. As I said, Jaiku is the Luxembourg of microblogging. It may have superior features, but who wants to up roots and move their permanently?  […]