I woke up this morning thinking about how many online networking sites I use (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) and a new one I just joined (Gravity – thanks Adam!). Gravity is very different- the network is based on conversations and interests, not friends. You choose topic areas and conversations that you find interesting, and then follow and participate in those. This prevents users from simply repeating the formula on other websites, finding the same friends all over again, and then following them on a new website. After all, the baby pictures they have on Facebook are the same as the ones they have on MySpace…
What traditional networking sites (Facebook, etc.) provide is the ability to quickly scan the life of your friends as you choose. I’m not knocking them- I use them all! But it allows you to quickly keep in touch with minimal work, to stay updated, and to update in return. You can take that networking a step further and write more in-depth notes or make plans, but for the most part, you are simply presenting your life to those friends on your page, and scanning the life they present to you on theirs. It is a means of linking you with friends you already have- while you sometimes move a few layers past people you know personally or well, this form of networking doesn’t truly expand your influence. While Gravity is different in that it introduces you to a new group of friends, the lack of a true “profile” on the page prevents these new contacts (at least as far as I can see) from becoming more than conversation partners.
I began wondering how, in this environment, I could understand my current network, evaluate its flaws, and grow it to something more meaningful? In other words, how could I grow my online network to provide the same substantial impact that I expect from my personal and professional network? LinkedIn has this goal, but seemingly fails to deliver real visibility into the circles of influence that are your network- and that visibility is key to changing an online network to a network as powerful as an in-person one.
So this is what I thought of- a combination of two very different technologies:
- The yet to be popularized social network aggregator (such as FriendFeed)
- A network visualization and analysis software (like NetMiner)
By taking the same API that a network aggregator uses, you can build an updated feeds and friend database, probably sending it directly to a desktop program rather than another website. That program uses a technology similar to a network visualization model like NetMiner, allowing you to run a visualization and analysis program of who you are friends with, who you are talking to, and how much repetition there is in your network, instead of new growth.
Imagine being able to look at your network with a critical eye and see how much your communication depends on the same sphere of friends. That’s where you can begin a secondary network analysis of the hobbies, traits, etc that your group of friends likes, and either find out that you tend to like people that like “x” (which can sometimes come as a surprise) or you can identify some of the gaps in your network (oh, look, I don’t have a single friend that’s not an “associate” somewhere- maybe I need to start some mentoring outreach).
I understand that not everyone uses online social websites to network or to maintain an image- sometimes it’s just for fun. But it can be so much more- and with the increasing amount of time we as a nation spend online, on these sites, the greater is our need to use these sites to replicate certain in-person interactions. As with any growth, the first step is sometimes simply self-reflection, which a tool like this would provide. Thoughts?