Friday, December 18, 2009

What Exactly Do I Want from Social Networks?

I just finished reading Julie Powell's book, Julie and Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Some of my favorite lines were not about her cooking project itself but about Powell's experience as a new blogger. Her remarks included such gems as:
  • "Oh, and I also know that when you've gotten a night of sleep, no matter how tear-stained, and then some bolstering from people who love you - or 'love' you, or whatever - even if they're people you've never met, sometimes the end of the world doesn't seem like that anymore. Like the end, I mean."
  • "It is a comfort to have friends, maybe especially friends you will never meet."
  • "I don't mean this to be arrogance; in fact, I don't think it has a whole lot to do with me one way or the other. I think what it means is, people want to care about people. People look after one another, given the chance."
  • "And I figure, maybe just believing in goodness generates a tiny bit of the stuff, so that by being so foolish as to believe in our better natures, if just for a day, we actually contribute to the sum total of generosity in the universe."
Compare these thoughts to what Robert Scoble recently had to say about social site FriendFeed. He linked to a search for posts with five or more comments, followed by, "Just for anyone who is looking for a conversation. Me? I'm looking to get smarter. I wish there were a filter for smart conversations because most of these are, while entertaining, not making me smarter about anything."

He went on to say:
  • "...finding good conversations is very difficult. Most of the conversations on FriendFeed are pablum, sorry."
  • "I don't want to talk about everything in the world that's happening to everyone. Maybe you want to talk about Tiger Woods and his problems or how someone smashed their fingers, but I don't. I'm looking for something smarter."
  • " If you read that [world news from Twitter feeds] it's more focused and makes you smarter. Here? I don't find I'm getting smarter. I find I'm spending time having fun, maybe, but not getting smarter."
  • "I read books too (even have a Kindle so I can buy most anybook and read it immediately), but they make me smart about something that happened 12 months ago (or longer)."
  • "...the thing is the traffic here has NOT been going up and I'm trying to communicate why. Most people look at FriendFeed and don't see the conversations. Then, if they do find the conversations they see a bunch of noise. FriendFeed is fun for my brother, but not for people like me who are looking for something more specific."
  • "I tried for 18 months to get everyone to use FriendFeed. I failed and will continue to do so because most people don't want to have conversations with people they don't know. That's the secret sauce on Facebook. You know everyone you talk with (mostly)."
Well, Superstarchivist? What do you want from your social networking sites? Do you want to get smarter? Do you want a community of people who care about each other? Do you want something entirely different?

I decided to see what the Oxford English Dictionary had to say about the adjective "social." Various meanings were listed, including:
  • "Of a group of people, an organization, etc.: consisting or composed of people associated together for friendly interaction or companionship."
  • "Marked or characterized by friendliness, geniality, or companionship with others; enjoyed, taken, carried out, etc., in the company of others."
  • "Of a human being: living or disposed to live in groups or communities; naturally inclined to be in the company of others. Also of a person's nature: characterized by a need to live in groups or communities."
  • "Of an animal: living or tending to live in communities of individuals of the same species which cooperate with one another to their mutual or collective benefit; of or relating to such animals; esp. designating insects (such as ants and bees) or other animals which live in highly organized associations, often with adaptation of individuals to distinct roles or activities."
  • "Of an activity or policy: carried out to improve the condition of society or for the benefit of society as a whole."
I use different social sites in different ways. I don't find and follow "new" people on Facebook. If we connect there, it's because we've already "met" online or in person. I have found new people through Twitter, but I really don't use it all that often anymore. Most of my social interaction occurs through FriendFeed or the Library Society of the World chatroom. I've made new friends through seeing others' comments and likes in FriendFeed, and I've had the pleasure of meeting some of them in person.

I think I lean more toward using social sites for community (like Julie Powell) than for getting smarter (like Robert Scoble). Granted, if I have a professional question, I have a network of librarians/archivists I can ask, but that's not my primary purpose in online networking. That said, none of my online interactions are making me less smart. Maybe I don't get my world news through my Twitter feed, but I certainly get plenty of good ideas and food for thought from my "invisible friends in the computer."

Oh, and last weekend, I watched Robert Scoble's brother get married in Oregon via a livestream from a webcam. So, Robert, thank you for your thoughts, and I'll keep interacting with your brother on FriendFeed.

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