In the previous post we explored how Social Networking sites normally have 4 different functions:
- Identity; and
Now, by looking at four well know examples, I will illustrate how different emphasis on these functions differentiate Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn and Second Life.
Second Life is in fact a weak example of a Social Networking media property.
- This is primarily because it lacks Networking functionality (You have no friend or contact lists, where you can create ties or nodes and track their movements or interactions);
- It is however very big on Identity formation features (although this identity does not have to map to a real identity);
- It can be very social and users can build real & warm relationships;
- It also does have ‘sharing‘ functionality. (Just by being on Second Life you in fact become content! Everything you build is user generated content and therefore sharing.)
But because it tries to recreate reality and its users can not create ties or links (a buddy list) that allows them to associate, track or interact with contacts it’s a social networking site without the networking.
What are the user behavior of Second Life users like? They tend to spend hours on SL, they tend not to use their own identity, but a fictional one. They tend to meet strangers and befriend these stranger’s fictional identities. They can just be or play or build stuff in Second Life. But what they do there tends not to have much of a bearing on what they do outside of SL.
LinkedIn can be described as a very functional Social Networking site that’s lite on social functionality because:
- Is a Networking site in the business sense of the word, where people create ties to achieve a goal; (It has built its networking features strongly on so-called weak tie theory.)
- Does not contain much Social functions (Users not enabled to show their personality and build deeper personal relationships);
- Has basic and core Identity functions: A user’s real (but laundered to the extent that they can be sanitized of personality) identity is crucial;
- Little by way of ‘Sharing’ functionality (Although they have recently added Question and Answer functionality, which generates fantastic content);
LinkIn’s user behavior is quite different form SL.
“We focus on a few but high value moments” Reid Hoffman, LinkIn’s founder.
And thats exactly what happens. Many users only visit it when they are job hunting – once every few years. The users real identities are crucial, but they are stripped of any depth. It’s a corporate identity, an online resume of your career status and achievements. There’s little evidence of socialising on LinkIn and little functionality that encourages it. ‘Sharing’ is limited to gaining access of contact’s contacts (weak ties) and asking professional Questions and getting Answers.
MySpace combines the 4 functions more equally that Second Life or LinkIn.
- It has very strong Social functionality that allows users to interact in a personal way;
- But it has Networking functions as well, that allows users to create friends or contacts through ties;
- User identity formation and expression, real or made up (and therefore often comprised of groups of people like bands), is extremely important, a user can completely customize a page to reflect who they are and associate with whom they want;
- ‘Sharing’ things like songs, pictures, videos and blog entries is key;
MySpace’s users come back to the site often and spend a reasonable amount of time on it. It has become very popular with bands and artists as a promotional tool. Anybody can see who your ‘friends’ are, and some users have thousands of them – so weak tie theory applies.
“Andy Warhol said everybody is famous for 15 minutes. Social Networking changed that to everyone is famous for 15 people. If you have a million friends, your broadcasting. You’re an entertainer” – Tom Anderson (MySpace)
Like MySpace Facebook applies the 4 core functionalities associated with social networking more evenly. It has:
- Very strong Networking functions, without ‘Friends’ you literally have nothing to read, see or interact with. Facebook is built on strong interpersonal ties;
- It has allot of functionality that makes it very Social and allows personalities to to be on display. Poke!
- User Identity functionality is paramount, made up identities are virtually useless (pun intended);
- ‘Sharing’ is crucial (Users can share almost everything, their every Facebook move is UGC. UGC that is delivered to their ‘friends’ via a personalised feed);
Facebook’s user behavior is very interesting. Most users visit the site at least daily, but often for less than one minute. Besides the importance of real Identities and Facebooks strong and deep ties (versus MySpace’s weak ties), the main difference between Facebook and MySpace is in the clever exposure given to ‘sharing‘ via its Personal Newsfeed function.
“You can’t create communities, you can just find them” – Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook)
All this explains why Facebook has been so successful. As Jeff Jarviss said, it harnesses “the wisdom of your crowd“. But it’s not suitable for all Social Networking needs, because it militates against discovering new people and therefore new things. It’s also doubtful whether it would have bee so successful without it’s revolutionary Personal Newsfeed.
Facebook and MySpace share almost all their key features, and LinkedIn shares some with them, but the differing implementation of the 4 elements has yielded very different user behavior.
So when planning a Social Networking site ask yourself:
- To what extent should the users form relationships or ties?;
- Should they be weak or strong?
- To what extent should the site allow socializing?; and
- To what extent should users be able to express their identity; and
- Should this identity be real?
- What content do you want your users to generate?
- And how do users find out of new UGC content that might interest them?
One can not have Social Networking site without two-way ties built into the architecture. The ability to communicate and interact is not enough (See Second Life), although users can still build ad hoc relationships without this functionality.
Building ties into the architecture requires permissioning functionality. Even when one does have permissioning to create ties, how one implements the use of ties leads to wildly divergent outcomes. (See the huge difference between LinkedIn and MySpace.)
Interpersonal ties, generally, come in three varieties: strong, weak, or absent. Weak social ties, it is argued, are responsible for the majority of the embeddedness and structure of social networks in society as well as the transmission of information through these networks. Specifically, more novel information flows to individuals through weak rather than strong ties. Because our close friends tend to move in the same circles that we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with what we already know. Acquaintances, by contrast, know people that we do not, and thus receive more novel information