Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Social Links

With mucho time on my hands, I've been playing around with social networking sites and technologies. I'll post more later on any profound conclusions (should be a short post), but a couple of quick comments here.

Humans are social animals. The need to interact with other humans is a constant compulsion. Given a technology, we will find a way to turn it into a way to socially interact.

It's not just sites designed for social networking. Video games evolve into MMOGs, adding text and audio (VOIP) ways to interact realtime with others. Cell phone SMS and cameras grow into moblogging, and then tap into the video game and social networking sites (article today in WSJ - requires subscription).

Sometimes these techologies, when adopted for social networking, merely replace or extend an existing mechanism. (Dating sites replacing personal ads in papers. Voicemail replacing phone calls. Email replacing voicemails. IM, SMS replacing each with a strange mix of the immediacy of phone calls with the time-shiftability and history of emails.)

Sometimes these technologies create new social phenomena altogether. I wrote a while back on the transparent society created by the MySpace/Facebook crowd. (Tangent: interesting blog post on why some of these succeed and others fail). YouTube's sharing of video is creating novel interaction. I'm also finding Consumating.com's use of tags is also novel and interesting. Tagging as a concept is being expanded and adopted for means of social interaction that isn't dating, and isn't preformed "birds of a feather" groups like Meetup or Tribe. This is a kind of "self-forming" group dynamic, kind of like MySpace but different.

I recently read (although I wish I could remember where so I could link to it) an article that described the tipping point phenomenon among kids using SMS in the party scene. It goes like this: say there are about five parties going on tonight that you are aware of. You pick one at which to begin your evening. If it's good, you text your friends to come over, "hey, it's happening here!" If it's bad, you text your friends "where are you?" so you can go where it's happening.

While the distribution across the parties starts out fairly random and even, it rapidly coalesces to one party to which everyone converges. As your friends come to join you, they text their friends, and so on, until one party becomes quite large and the other die the death of insufficient energy.

Why didn't this happen with just cell phones? It probably did, to an extent, but if you're in a loud party you may not hear your phone, or may consider it rude to answer it while talking to others. SMS is there, available quickly but when you want to look at it, and you can check it fairly surreptitiously.

The net result: a new phenomenon, introducing the physics of the inverse power curve (Pareto Distribution) into the party scene of the 15-25 set (where SMS and IM is ubiquitous).

I think this space is just like the search space was some years back - it will go through a consolidation sometime in the next couple years, but there is a heck of a lot of innovation and experimentation that will go on before that happens.

It's a fun place to play right now.


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