Social Networks – Pure and Applied

I’ve written about social networks and their uses before, but I wanted to expand on some of my original thoughts.

So, let me start with a quote from my previous article stating my position:

I’m sure this isn’t just because I’m an anti-social bastard, but it seems like the big social networks have absolutely no purpose to an individual user. The signal-to-noise ratio is ridiculous – it’s just marketers (whether they be bands or brands) hitting you incessantly with really bad marketing. It reminds me so much of UseNet in the late 1990s it hurts. It’s like being forced to listen to Barry Scott shouting at you about the benefits of Cillit Bang, on a continuous loop.

You see, social networking shouldn’t be the raison d’être of a site. It’s a feature. Add social networking to a site that already has a purpose and you might add value to that site.

When a new concept or technology appears on the internet everyone wants it on their site. Or worse still, everyone wants their site completed devoted to it. Then after an initial—huge—adoption of these new sites, interest—and therefore usage—starts to decay.

This is not a bad thing. The massive adoption of MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, Orkut, FaceParty et al. introduces people to the essential concepts: adding friends, creating and maintaining your profile, adding applications, deleting 99% of those applications when you discover they’re pointless, etc.

As you’ll probably have guessed, my prediction is that usage of Pure Social Networks—sites whose only purpose is “to be a social network”—will start to tail off, and sites which use social networking models as a means to an end (which I’m classing as Applied Social Networking ) will increase thanks to easy adoption of the new tools because everyone’s learnt the ropes on MySpace and Facebook.

I’ve used this example before, but it’s a good one: deviantArt is a prime example of an an Applied Social Networking site – it uses social networking tools as an integrated part of a multi-artist gallery site. It’s not perfect, but it’s on the right path.

MySpace has caught on and has been moving from Pure to Applied over recent years – it’s evolving into a music-orientated site, connecting bands with fans. Networks such as Flickr and LinkedIn had a purpose from the start (although LinkedIn probably needs to do some work on making itself more useful). Facebook, however, doesn’t have a purpose yet, and if I were Facebook I’d be worried about that.