Ross Mayfield's Weblog
Markets, Technology and Musings


(by most recent)
Blogroll Me!

Subscribe by email:



Sunday, March 30, 2003

Social Networking Models
Another wave of online communities is underway. The first wave, beginning with the Well, took advantage of the social adoption of email to build community upon Usenet, bulletin boards and forums.  A basis of trust in email-style interfaces and conventions enabled pooled discussion.  This wave takes advantage of the social adoption of the web to build community upon web-native tools.  Because the web is more diverse environment so too are the tools.  The physical and logical infrastructure of the web has reached a maturity while usage has surpassed a tipping point where it is ingrained in most people's lives.  As people have become participants on the web, they are building a new social infrastructure, connection by connection.

Social Networking Models

Network Type



Explicit Declarative Ryze
Physical In-person Meetup
Conversational Communication LiveJournal; Weblogs
Private Referral Friendster

© 2003 Ross Mayfield

The above table provides a framework for understanding how Social Networking Models differ by how personal connections are made.  When a community is served by Social Software, its design places limits on how relationships are formed, especially in how strangers make initial connections. 
This is in contrast to how connections are made in physical environments, where inter-personal communication and interaction has no boundaries except social convention and the rule of law.  If you want to get on a soap box to attract connections you can in many places.  And in the physical world there are social norms that make different methods for making connections more appropriate.  If you want a job at Google you could bring your soap box to their parking lot, but a personal referral to Eric Schmidt might be more effective. 
Social Software design fosters specific social norms by regulating possible behavior.  Regulation is a good thing.  A stem cell can grow into any cell in the human body not by hard coded instructions of what to become, but regulators telling it what not to become.  Simple rules in complex adaptive systems, like social networks, yield complex results.  And as Clay Shirky said, Social Software encodes political bargains that are required because of natural social tension.
An Explicit Network fosters connections by declared identities, interests and ties -- such as with Ryze.  An initial connection is made by introducing yourself to someone on the basis of who they say they are and who they say they know.  The entire network is explicit, all identities and ties are open for browsing and even serve as methods for navigation. 
A Physical Network fosters connections by in-person meetings -- such as with Meetup.  An initial connection is made by people introducing themselves the old-fashioned way, the Social Software facilitates coordination and drives people with similar interests to be in the same time and place.
A Conversational Network fosters connections by communication -- such as with LiveJournal and Weblogs.  An initial connection is made by introducing yourself on the basis of communication.  Its a fascinating dance.  Initially you read someone else's weblog, gaining a gradual understanding of the person behind the weblog.  Perhaps you participate on their weblog through comments or post and link from your own.  They may choose (and choice is what make it a Spam-free medium) to read yours and eventually will cross-post building a circle of trust.  It may be some time until a more personal connection is made through email, in-person, or otherwise, but when it occurs a strange sense of familiarity engenders relationship forming. 
A Private Network fosters connections by referrals -- such as with Friendster.  An initial connection is made through a referral backed by existing social ties.  You want to meet Jane who knows your friend Ellen, so you ask Jane to introduce you.  On Friendster you can't see or navigate through the entire network, only four degrees of separation from you, and with each person you can see how they connect to you in a web of trust.
One model I didn't include here is Virtual Networks, which fosters connections through avatars, such as with EverQuest.  Largely because they are not web-native (yet) and the patterns of connection are still being defined and another wave of worlds like Sims Online are being created.
Trust ascends through these different models.  You are more likely to trust someone introduced through a referral than someone you know through conversation than someone you meet in person for the first time than someone who declares their background and interests.  However, speed descends through these models.  You can quickly navigate and introduce yourself through an Explicit Network, especially compared to working your way through a Private Network.
The differences of these Social Network Models will trend to blur, but each example possesses a unique and dominant connection method.  Ryze facilitates physical meetings (in fact that's how the community began).  Weblogs and LiveJournal do not emphasize identity like Ryze, but share their own differences.  Weblogs are decentralized while LiveJournal is centralized and does emphasize ties, which explains the denser clustering of relationships.  Friendster increasingly provides mechanisms for making identity explicit.  But each model has a unique and dominant property for social networking.  Pointing out these distinctions isn't a call for Social Software builders to emulate each other.  People don't just join one community, they join many, and they appreciate diversity and choice. 
One of the criticism of new Social Networking startups that their success is based upon the large base of unemployed people with time on their hands.  It is ironic that during the bubble companies subsidized our networking by flying us to events and the like at a time when we didn't value connections.  During the downturn connections mattered to companies and the unemployed more than ever.  This did bring some people online to connect with one another that otherwise wouldn't have.  But the outcome of this cycle is more people socially engaged on the web as participants.  The major threat to each of these models is bad regulation that produces negative externalities (read: Spam).  Provided this issue is addressed these communities will be a part of our lives for a long time.

10:36:01 PM    comment []

Wiki for Collaborative Development

Chandler Wiki. Mitch Kapor blogs about documentation coming for the 0.1 release of Chandler by the Open Source Applications Foundation. They are using a Wiki for the collaborative development environment. Great example of how Wiki's are cool. [Joi Ito's Web]

8:50:50 PM    comment []

Where Worlds Collide
Means to Ends.

Jamie Lewis: Ends and Means: Identity in Two Worlds.

Jamie is President of The Burton Group (which he founded with Craig Burton) and one of the world's leading authorities on enterprises, networks and related matters. [The Doc Searls Weblog]

The Net must accommodate more than one form of digital identity. Identity is contextual. It has many aspects. Customer-centrism is only one aspect of the digital identity infrastructure we need. So, it stands to reason that the identity infrastructure will be polycentric: flexible, dynamic and capable of pivoting and changing according to the context...

These different forms of identity: customer-centric, government-issued, and enterprise-managed, will develop in parallel, more or less...

Both the World of Ends and World of Means are right and inevitable.  The gray area is where worlds collide, what Doc calls Our Identity, where means and ends will continually negotiate.  The resulting friction and absence of trust may call for intermediaries that provide proxy value and a balance of control.   


Eric Norlin is right that organic growth may prevail, particularly in the area of Our Identity.  Identity is a competition of networks.  Clay Shirky recently suggested the strength of the organic network growth of Earlynets over Permanets for physical wireless networks, which I believe applies to logical networks as well.

9:22:00 AM    comment []

Click here to visit the Radio UserLand website. © Copyright 2003 Ross Mayfield.
Last update: 4/1/2003; 2:10:34 PM.
This theme is based on the SoundWaves (blue) Manila theme, but severly tweaked.

March 2003
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          
Feb   Apr

<--Older | Newer-->

Subscribe to "Ross Mayfield's Weblog" in Radio UserLand. Click to see the XML version of this web page. Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog. @Ryze FOAF

Recent Posts

All Consuming