In Part 1 I came to the conclusion that what we think of social networking today is primarily a way of saying look at this. I don’t really consider that social networking. To me real social networking is a conversation, not a broadcast. Yes there are ways to respond back in facebook, twitter, and blogs, but it’s not designed for it much beyond an acknowledgement that you did look at that. There’s no easy way to branch off, or add people, or a host of other features to really have a conversation.
To me social networking is communicating with Dave and Brian on information security, talking with Lydia and Chris about sci-fi novels and comics, chatting with Sean about RPGs, talking with Mel about cooking, planning with Amy the move to the new house, or chatting with my brothers about video games.
The groups of people are much smaller, but even in the look at this model of social networking how many of your hundreds of facebook “friends” really care about that movie, or lunch, or sunset you just posted? So if we step back from the blogs, twitter, facebook, livejounal, etc. how do we have a real two-way conversation? The technology is out there, it’s just not labelled as social networking.
The bridge between large scale and intimate conversations especially for groups of people with common interests is a message board. I’ve been a member of a board about video games (among other things) for almost eight years. I’ve had plenty of conversations with those people about all sorts of topics. Wikis can also work if the ultimate goal is gathering a body of knowledge on a specific topic (like say a certain video game).
On a more personal level you have voice and text. Voice isn’t just phone. There’s Skype, Ventrilo, Xbox Live, and a host of other applications. Text isn’t just email. You’ve got instant messaging and even sms/mms on your phone.
Although each one of these solutions has advantages for small group or one on one communication they’re not ideal for meaningful conversations. That’s okay too. When Amy wants to tell me she’s having a good day an sms message to my cell phone is perfect for that. When I want to check in with my friends in Vancouver and see how the new game is shaping up, Gtalk or Xfire chat works very well.
But for discussions between small groups of trusted people, for meaningful conversations, for social networking I want:
- immediacy if you want - the ability to converse in real time if schedules align, but doesn’t have to
- history – the ability to go over the discussion to date and jump in late
- archive - the ability to go back at a later date (months, years later) and search for information or start it back up
- reference - the ability to link to other sources of information
- organization - the ability to handle multiple people and multiple threads of the conversation, maybe even some moderation functions
So here’s where I either blow your mind or cause you to click away from this site in disgust. I think the real future of social networking on the internet today is best exemplified by Google Wave. It’s by no means perfect, (#1 issue for me is it doesn’t work on phones) and it does not do look at this at all (which confused the hell out of many, many people when it launched a year ago), but it takes the best features of wikis, message boards, email and IM to bring a small group of people together to have a conversation about a topic.
So as an experiment if you want to have a conversation with me about this topic, I’ve created a public wave and invite you to join in and try it out. Wave is open to everyone, you just need to sign up with any email account and have a modern browser that can handle HTML 5. Let me know what you think.