Explaining SNS to your non-wired friends

[Originally posted: March 21 2004]

I’ve been trying to explain the concept of social networking services to my less wired friends and they still don’t really get the point (suffice to say, many early adopters aren’t convinced either…). Part of the confusion about what SNS are has to do with the variety of reasons people have for using them. Friendster isn’t Flickr isn’t Linkedin isn’t Tribes isn’t Orkut.

For me, it’s been mostly about extending my professional and personal network, exchanging ideas, and a little journalistic research. I’ve had the chance to discuss some of my more obscure interests, talk to people who have more expertise in a subject than I do, make a business connection or two, and conference about the merits of the grilled cheese sandwich. In one case, an Orkut exchange resulted in making a valuable Linkedin connection. The Linkedin profile verifies the professional claims while Orkut provides a space to observe each others online interaction, interests, network, etc.

People who are willing to put their skills and know-how to the test in public reveal how they might behave as a project member or how their minds work on ideas. A resume or an email exchange can only tell you so much about potential employee or business contact.

The ugly side of all of this is that the companies who own the SNS are also learning plenty about who we are, what we like, and how we operate.

There’s no question that the privacy policies must be amended, the bugs must be fixed, the metaphors must be changed, etc, etc. But the basic principles – building community or networks, semantic webs, etc are worthwhile. They just need to evolve. And there are a lot of smart people working to achieve this. In the meantime, here’s a piece from the Guardian on the emergence of SNS.

“Social networking sites are spreading like a rash through the internet, but are they sustainable, asks Jack Schofield

In the beginning, way back in 1996, it was SixDegrees. Last year, it was Friendster. Last week, it was Orkut. Next week, it could be Flickr. All these websites, and dozens more, are designed to build networks of friends, and they are currently at the forefront of the trendiest internet development: social networking. But unless they can start to offer more substantial benefits, it is hard to see them all surviving, once the Friend Of A Friend (Foaf) standard becomes a normal part of life on the net.”

And a fantastic article by Stephen Downes on The Semantic Social Network:

Two types of technologies are about to merge. The technologies are content syndication, used by blogging websites around the world, and social networking, employed by sites such as Friendster and Orkut. They will merge to create a new type of internet, a network within a network, and in so doing reshape the internet as we know it.

The purpose of this article is two-fold. On the one hand, it is to describe the emerging Semantic Social Network (SSN) and to sketch the nature of the new internet we are about to experience. And on the other, it is to promote the development of the SSN by describing to developers the sorts of systems required and to suggest how the SSN can be used.”