Thoughts on social networks

I’m fascinated by them. Not necessarily from a philosophical or scientific how-does-the-social-animal-work point of view, although that’s a whole ‘nother aspect. I’m fascinated from a usability and functional point-of-view. How do these things really work, why do some pull you in when others don’t and why should anyone care?

I have accounts on most social networks. I even snared an invite for Pownce just out of curiosity. I can’t even remember why I registered on most of them, probably as research for a blog post somewhere. Most of the time, I click around for a few minutes and then forget about it.

Nothing has changed on MySpace. It’s ugly and loud. I click on a link and invariably it takes all of about 3 minutes to close the tab. What was I thinking for even trying? I get spam from it from time to time. I’m not even sure I remember the password I used.

I like LinkedIn, to a point. It’s the only network I’m on that isn’t the same-old-same-old online crowd. More people from “real life” are there. Problem is, I haven’t found it all that useful because as soon as you try to truly use what it has to offer you’re hit with the option to pay money to do what you want to do. So while it’s nice to see who knows who, and what folks are up to professionally I won’t get as much out of it until I need it enough to put some funds on the table. Yes, I know it’s a different kind of network…meant for building professional, business relationships. But I don’t buy that. Networking, whether it be business or personal, is more organic than that. I’ve established business relationships with contacts I’ve made on a parenting e-list. I count as personal friends folks I’ve only met professionally. It’s all about relationships, and building connections between people. Location and origin of context doesn’t matter.

The big surprise for me is Facebook. I always blew it off as being something just for the high school/college kids. Wow, has that changed over the past few months, hasn’t it? This weekend, I started clicking around on the profiles of a few friends, looked for contacts already on the service, added some applications, updated my profile and even added C3 as a cause. Some learnings:

It ain’t ugly. It’s very thoughtfully designed. Wise of the Facebooks folks to give members a lot of control over their own content without the ability to create pages that are hard on the eyes (or ears). I can almost handle bright green pages with yellow and blue type in 30 different fonts with large, misaligned images as long as there’s absolutely no sound. Why are the ugliest pages on MySpace also the ones that think you have to hear something, too?

Once you have confirmed someone as a friend, there are few boundaries. Most folks open their friends list to other friends, so you can see and connect to the folks you may have in common. You can add the same applications to your profile that they have to your own profile, you can read about the causes and interests that they have, and maybe join a few yourself. There are people who are on my friends list that I’ve known for 10+ years (mostly online) and seeing their Facebook profile gave me a glimpse into their life I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It’s easy, too easy, to get pulled in and I’ve found myself going back to Facebook quite a few times to see what those in my list and in the groups I’ve joined are up to.

My professional experiences influence my personal decisions. My personal experiences shape my professional passions. Right now, I don’t see another social network that is doing as fine a job of successfully bringing it all together the way Facebook has. If you’re a college student looking for whatever college students are looking for these days, you can find it on Facebook. If you’re a married, 40 year-old woman with 2 kids who works from home and wants to use the web to have deeper (platonic) relationships, you can find it on Facebook and not feel that everything is entirely targeted at the 20 year-olds.

With all the networks, if you’re in it for the numbers, don’t bother. I only accept friends requests from people that I either know in-real-life or have had some meaningful email exchange, be it about personal or professional matters. I don’t think it has any value otherwise.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on social networks

  1. I just wanted to let you know that I have used linked in for several months and find that it isnt very useful. If people want to contect me to share ideas, they have to pay linked in therefore, they dont contact me. I want to contact someone and share an idea, I have to pay so I dont contact anyone. There is no news on anything…its just a static database….I dont see how it is possibly useful..

    Try or has industry news too. My two cents.

  2. Such a timely read, thanks!

    I just began trying out facebook. I’m experimenting to see if it can help support my volunteer networks – i.e. as additional tool like several other apps have proved to be to varying degrees.

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