Being Social the SNS Way
It is necessary to emphasize a distinction that is often lost in discussions about SNS: using SNS to find friends whom one would meet in ‘real-life’ in one thing, and social networking that is not driven towards such a translation, relationships/ friendships that are entirely web-based, is yet another.
It can safely be assumed that the latter is inherently less interesting, given that most users expect something tangible and ‘real’ out of SNS. From this point of view, SNS is nothing more than an extension (now we are on the Internet) and an aggregation of the various ways in which people seek friendships, relationships, business deals; or the various ways in which people relate to one another.
It is necessary to recognize that apart from such aggregation, there is nothing new at all in SNS—except for the fact that it can very useful if a member of a network has gone far away. The power of SNS can be fully utilized only when there is a physical distance amongst members. But this power comes from the Internet itself, not from the SNS. This is the second built-in conflict: SNS is truly useful only if I am away from my friends, and need to talk, need to socialize, but the main purpose is to bring people closer, find more channels of relating.
Given the fact that there are more people in society than users of the Internet, and that there are more users of the Internet than users of SNS, it becomes clear that SNS only caters to a small number of people.
SNS: Medium or Message? Ways of Being Social May Not Change
If we think about SNS as a medium, the message we get is rather obvious: some people have the time and desire to use this medium to replicate their social behavior on the Internet. If I am meeting my friends, say, once a week at least, and if all of us have cell phones, and one another’s numbers, I already have a network of friends. All of us may, for the fun of it, join an SNS service, and do what we do anyway: send IM’s, email, chat, or arrange rendezvous.
Reconnection: Meeting Strangers and Keeping Them, Losing Them
The most interesting feature of SNS, the possibility of meeting a stranger and making friends, remains the most troubled one. Though it reduces embarrassment at refusing or being refused, and though the ‘super-nodes’ (people through whom a large number of connections pass, along the 6 degrees radius) might flex their friendship muscles; it is as difficult to meet strangers and make friends as it is in ‘real’ life. And it is even more difficult to keep friends than in real life. It is easier to lose friends than in real life too: delete X from your buddy-list, block X’s mail, and that’s that, after that you wouldn’t even know how X reacts. ‘Reconnection’ is a crucial issue in SNS, as in real life yet again.
Whither SNS Then?
While some new capital, and some new human resources get inducted into SNS, it is important to ask what line of change or development SNS might take. We have already suggested in our previous article that an aggressive aggregation of all the channels of communication, and several other services is a possible line of expansion.
The increasing buzz around business networking (e.g. LinkedIn), on the other hand, suggests that perhaps the best use of SNS actually will be for business networking. While the teens share music, and images, and wink at each other, while the lonely singles hope for casual encounters, or something else, I can always find an FOAF who will work for me, or get me business, or let me work for him, and get some business done, some profit made. Friend of a friend, one of oldest methods of expanding business and contacts, now returns in this avatar of the latest, the most buzzed form of ‘networking’.
It is not without irony, perhaps, that not only does the old boys’ club model still survive, but is seen as the latest.