Social Networking Sites Are Dead Part Two: Tools

* Editors Note: The following is part two of the series “Social Networking Sites Are Dead”, which is the closest thing I can find to a white paper on the subject, written by Elissa Rose and Derek Maune of What’s the series about? The inevitable failure of Social Networking Sites like Facebook or Myspace. The argument comes from the idea that sociologically, we as a species are not equipped to handle the rejection of our social circle. I’ve invited Quillpill to Author on my blog because I feel the argument is valid. This installment addresses the solution to providing the space and freedom that is restricted by current social networking headstones, that have the attention of the Web 2.0 industry. Social Networking sites need space, how do they address space? Tools. A developer or platform has to give it’s user base the ability to build what they want, and where. As previously noted recently, Mark Zuckerberg spoke about how Social Networking sites are changing the world. I believe he’s wrong, they are repackaging spam, and locking us into a Social applications that make it uncomfortable for us to leave. Tool capability within platforms can be offered by Virtual Worlds, wihtin vast amounts of space. Elissa, Derek, thank you for writing part two of the following post, I urge everyone who has not yet tried Quillpill for their literature needs, to do so.*

Our last article argued that online social interactions need to be more organic and intuitive in order to assist with the stability and maintenance of our social networks. A social networking tool designed to take advantage of intuitive interaction and compensate for the limitations of organic relationships will provide users with a more stable social experience. Such a tool would be more successful than the current models because users would have a more positive experience and be less likely to abandon the community. The article briefly outlined four aspects of these intuitive relationships and in this entry we would like to focus on space and presence.

The weight to which a user’s presence is experienced can be illustrated by the interaction with the social group when changing status. A user joining or leaving a mailing list will generally not be acknowledged. The mailing list is completely asynchronous and no real sense of presence is put forward. Upon changing status on an instant messenger list, a user may be greeted or bid farewell if another contact has an immediate interest in interacting. This contact list allows users to quickly set up synchronous communication, but serves mainly as a method of tracking availability by communicating asynchronous status data. A user steps more fully into synchronous space in a chat room. Although chat rooms can be used in anasynchronous way, those present will likely interact with a user changing status. A user’s presence in a chat room can be felt and brings with it a more nuanced social interaction. Finally, users are discovering that many or most of the unspoken rules for interaction in the physical world apply to the virtual world.

In addition to being fully synchronous, virtual worlds provide other users cues as to an avatar’s current status at each minute. If an avatar has stopped moving and does not reply immediately, they may be away from the screen. If one avatar begins standing too closely, other avatars will back away to restore a sense of personal space. Although virtual worlds are not yet able to communicate exact body language and facial expressions, the ability to project presence has increased remarkably in recent years.

This projection of presence is important for organic and meaningful social interaction in the online environment. Although asynchronous communication is at a level undreamed of one hundred years ago, it has never-the-less remained difficult for many people to maintain social relationships online. The ability to project presence despite distance is important to interaction with our important social contacts. The greater the sense of presence, the less detached the parties feel from one another. Additionally, a greater sense of presence brings with it larger bandwidth for communication. Much of the information exchanged silently in physical communication is still missing from the virtual experience, but even though the avatar is limited, the presence of the simulacrum and its behavior is enough to bring a level of familiarity to the internet that was impossible even five years ago.

The ability of the avatar to mimic the physical body will continue to improve. The social networking tools that succeed will be able to provide the users with the greatest sense of presence for interaction. This is not to say that asynchronous communication methods and contact lists are obsolete; such methods of communication remain important for regular maintenance of social contacts. However, the point of social networking is to ease the social burden on the user and make it easier to build onto onto one’s existing social network. Presence is a powerful tool in both cases.

Following from this, the space in which a user experiences presence is also vital to a successful next-generation social tool. In Abraham Maslow’s psychological hierarchy of needs, the need for a familiar space precedes even our need for love and friendship. Without a familiar and predictable environment, humans are at a disadvantage when approaching their social relationships. While the internet was originally a large shared space for enthusiasts and academics with much in common, it has since become ubiquitous in society and evolved into a public square. With this growth of population it is no longer a granted fact that the internet is intrinsically a familiar and safe space to any individual user on a social level. The sense of solidarity with users online has decreased, and with it, the confidence in social norms within the conceptual space of the internet.

Conceptual space can be as simple as a hierarchy of profiles, a chat room, or a forum. Although users will form an identity around these spaces readily, the technology and need to provide more full-featured spaces should not be overlooked. As the internet develops, space is becoming more familiar, and the tools available for shared use within that space are becoming more robust.

As this sense of place inherent to the internet itself has decreased, the sense of place projected by each online experience has become more important. Beyond providing a user with an environment in which to interact with others, a space will ideally provide users with some cue as to how it should be used. This will shape and focus the experience of the user. A room focused on a stage will be used much differently than a room crowded with pillows. More importantly, however, by removing some of the unknowns in the social situation, and framing the nature of the expected interaction, social communication between the users of the shared space is eased.

Existing social groups, as opposed to groups of strangers, will have their own needs from new social programs. It is natural for groups of users to create their own sense of place, giving them a familiar context in which to interact. In an environment where few tools are provided to assist in creating the shared space, users will find some level of impediment to their desired and expected group dynamic. They must take the extra step of producing this sense of place themselves.

If users are given tools to customize the shared space, they will be able to shape the nature of the environment to suit the temperament and needs of their social group. Beyond simply indicating the broadest activity the space is used for, how the group interacts will be written into the very design of their shared space. Members of the group and guests are given powerful intuitive cues, rather than explicate and formal information, as to how they are expected to act and relate.

As space becomes more private and less widely accessed, this information becomes more personal. In fact, a profile can be considered a type of conceptual social space. However, while social profiles are designed to tell the world about a user, the space utilized by the user in their online interactions could be even more informative if they are allowed the tools to fit it to their needs. While less useful for building contact lists of those with shared interests, the space is far more useful for building and reinforcing the organic social network, mimicking the role of a user’s house, room, or office in physical social interactions.

A social tool that wishes to provide the advantage of shared and private space, must therefore provide the tools and ability to customize and personalize the space to each user and unique group of users. This space must be meant to be shared by the users. A customizable but solitary space is little different than a profile. A useful space must provide users with the tools needed to tie their social network to the environment. Communities with a strong identity are able to adapt existing tools to this end, but a true and robust shared space can streamline social upkeep and make a user’s or group’s social network more manageable. Users would need to be provided with the ability to manage the social aspects of the space, but more importantly, the users would require the ability to access media, tools, and recreation collectively and concurrently.

As technology continues to develop, users will be given the ability to more fully immerse themselves in the online environment on a number of levels. Users will expect to be able to interact in an organic and meaningful way within customizable spaces that provide them the tools to live, work and game with a social group no longer limited by geographic boundaries. The successful social tools will provide exactly this.


~ by Elissa Rose on April 3, 2008.

5 Responses to “Social Networking Sites Are Dead Part Two: Tools”

  1. I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    Tina Russell

  2. I agree with this article, with reservations. Effectively, what we are both witnessing and participating in, is a learning curve transition. We like the idea of collaboration writ large, but, as with real life, find it difficult to nurture and sustain any quantity of alliances for whatever purpose. Nevertheless, what has unequivocally changed the landscape, is the exposure to potential connections that time and geography would prohibit and that brings a new equation to who and how we evaluate our relationships.

  3. […] Our Very Own Elissa Rose and Derek Maune Launch Quillpill Their press release went out recently and I, your editor, missed it Sorry Derek and Elissa, you’ve done a lot for this blog with your posts on Social Networking and their flaws and expected downfalls. […]

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