Wow. I just read this mind-blowing post by Jyri Engestrom in response to my post about leaving Linked In. It's very well thought out and opens a whole new perspective to social networking for me that I completely, 100% sign on to:
Basically I'm defending an alternative approach to social networks here, which I call 'object centered sociality' following the sociologist Carin Knorr Cetina. I'll try to articulate the conceptual difference between the two theories and briefly demonstrate that object-centered sociality helps us to understand better why some social networking services succeed while others don't.
Russell's disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term 'social networking' makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it's not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term 'social network'. The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They're not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. ...
This is one of those days when I love blogging. I thought when I wrote the Linked In post that it would spur discussion and it did. First, it was just people defending various social networking engines, telling me that I used it incorrectly or somehow misunderstood the function of the network. But this post is exactly what I was looking for, it explains in an obvious, yet insightful way why Linked In didn't work for me, and the reason most social networks don't make sense to me.
Having objects be at the center of your connection with others is exactly what people do when they try to "categorize" their contacts. I know some people from work. These other people are my family. These people are my friends because I went to school with them, these others are my friends because of some shared interest. There's always something tying us together. And the cool thing is you can look at your contacts by other ways such as a date and location as well.
Basically what Jyri has done has added the "there" to the social network which I said was missing. I think this is what my initial reaction to Yahoo 360 was as well. By making the contacts the primary focus, to me there is no "meat." By making blogs the primary focus, you add that artificial object which can then tie people together. Not just a relationship which stands on its own, but a real relationship based on some actual object: a blog post, a photo, a forum, etc.
Very cool. Sign me up to this way of thinking from now on. It just makes sense.