EdTech geek finally joins YASN (Yet Another Social Network), in this case Twitter. Said EdTech geek now needs to find friends also using Twitter (and find a reason to use it) or else see it go the way of other social networks. Fortunately, some folks whom I virtually follow on a regular basis are already using it, so I check out their profiles and follow along. Uploading my Gmail account catches a few more friends, but this all feels pretty clunky.
Soon there will be a better way. Today Google announced their Social Graph API. Using 2 technologies I’ve never heard of – FOAF and XFN – Google will now be able to track my relationships like they track the linked relationships of webpages. They then open this information up to social network developers who can now make it possible for me to, say, find all my Facebook friends who are using Twitter.
Overall the article is critical of social networks and the seemingly shallow relationships between people that often form. While I agree that many of the relationships are shallow, I also happen to know that the opposite is true and some fairly deep relationships can occur.
It’s also true that social networks don’t build real connections. It’s the people behind the keyboard who are the architects of real connections. I think the technology itself is agnostic when it comes to the level of depth of the relationships it mediates. The users choose how deep or shallow they wish to wade into the social network pond.
The one point that was bang on for me, however, was the point raised by University of Toronto sociologist Barry Wellman. Wellman really hits the nail on the head with regards to Facebook, MySpace and other social networks.
The bigger problem with Facebook et al., says Barry Wellman, a University of Toronto sociologist and founder of INSNA, is that current sites “assume that everyone in your life is on one happy network.” On MySpace, your work colleagues are given the same info as your Halo buddies. That’s not how life works, and pretending it does dilutes the meaning of our more powerful connections.
Essentially, everyone in our network gets the same level of access to personal information, whereas in “real life” we have much more control over what types of information we want to share with the people around us. I don’t necessarily tell my work colleagues all the details of my personal life, although they all know much more about my kids than my banker does. But my banker knows much more about how much I owe on my mortgage than my colleagues. We build these little walled areas in our life and when areas collide it makes us feel uncomfortable. And this is where I believe the friction will occur with students as educators push more into their online social networks.
One other question raised by the article, and one that I’ll be asking more and more, is how many social connections can we have before they begin to lose meaning and effectiveness? I have never heard of Dunbar’s number before, but I’m certainly going to research it a bit more as I continue to look at the effectiveness of social networks as an educational tool.
Business Week has done a nice bit of research pulling together some demographic information to come up with profiles on who uses the current crop of social web services and how they use them.
Overall, social sites are growing at a huge rate, but for many of us it seems that we just want to lurk and are not actually contributing anything. Only 4.59% of Wikipedia users actually contribute any content, while the numbers for sites like Flickr (0.2%) and YouTube (0.16%) are surprisingly low.
Not surprising, the major contributors to social sites are in the 12-26 age group. Business Week calls them the Creators. These are the people who publish web pages, blog and upload videos to sites like YouTube. This group also has the largest percentage of social network Joiners with between 51% to 70% participation rate.
What is surprising to me is how consistently low the level of the Collectors is across the board. In every demographic, the rate of people who are tagging or aggregating, collecting and remixing content via RSS hovers between 11% and 18%. While it is encouraging to see some consistency across the demographic board with taggers and aggregators, overall it tells me that people have yet to see the value of both syndication and tagging.
For me, collecting it is one of the most exciting features of social networks – the ability for me to take all these disparate pieces of information and mash them up into a form that makes sense to me. It allows me to become my own editor, to begin to create my own mediascape and filter my own information.
Tagging is really what puts the social in social networks. It is through tagging and folksonomies that you begin to harness the power of the collective. As content gets tagged, it begins to take shape and organized into a coherent system. But in order for tagging and folksonomies to work, there has to be a fairly diverse and large group of users. Until that happens, the value of tagging and folksonomies run the risk of being tainted by a small group of sophisticated users.