Thursday, March 19, 2009

Does the nature of our communication need to change to maximize social networking opportunities?

I posted this question on LinkedIn and thought I'd expand and cross post it, expanded here.

Social Networking. All the rage. However, I'm wondering whether Web 2.0 is really something more like what I've termed Relationship 1.0 (See me! Buy from me!) on a new platform.Given our opportunity to connect with people the world over in an instant, would we be best served to focus a little more attention on the kinds of communication (who or how we need to be or whether we're powerfully "in the world" of another) that works best on these and other platforms (including face to face).

Social network theories originated in sociology, social psychology and anthropology (imagine that) and, at their heart, describe the manner in which people connect. In 1954, J. A. Barnes started using the term systematically to denote patterns of ties between and amongst people, institutions and social groups--social networks. What, I wonder, would happen if those experts--"S.D. Berkowitz, Stephen Borgatti, Ronald Burt, Kathleen Carley, Martin Everett, Katherine Faust, Linton Freeman, Mark Granovetter, David Knoke, Peter Marsden, Nicholas Mullins, Anatol Rapoport, Stanley Wasserman, Barry Wellman, Douglas R. White, and Harrison White" (from told us whether our use of electronic social media to create networks was really allowing us to create lasting connections with some velocity and effectiveness or just ersatz biz and personal links.

For example one theory talks about social distance--the nature of the comfort zone between people who are identified as different from one another (in terms of, for example, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation). The Bogardus Social Distance Scale for example, uses a scale (below) where 1.0 would indicate no distance (or opportunity for difference-related friction).
  • As close relatives by marriage (score 1.00)
  • As my close personal friends (2.00)
  • As neighbors on the same street (3.00)
  • As co-workers in the same occupation (4.00)
  • As citizens in my country (5.00)
  • As only visitors in my country (6.00)
  • Would exclude from my country (7.00)
So. a Facebook "friend" or Twitter follower from another country may have a SD rating of 7.

Now,taking that a bit further, given what I'm trying to track, I wonder if there are other values to add to the scale to describe the vector point of the connection--what "source" the connection came from or the Connection Distance. Like this:
  • Connected with them directly (score 1.0)
  • Connected with them through a close friend or partner (score 2.0)
  • Connected with them through a business or professional associate (score 3.0)
  • Connected with them through an associate (score 4.0)
  • Connected with them through a stranger (score 5.0)
  • Not previously connected at all (score 6.0)
Could these two elements--Social Distance and Connection Distance--covary? Probably so, though I'm guessing here. What I'm reasonably sure of is that there's a hell of a lot more work to be done to understand these connections and be able to measure their autheicity, depth or value.

Just sayin'!


@danporcher or Mr. @freemybrain to you : ) said...

Interesting post.

I think Connection Distance is a fairly accurate description of how I weight contacts through LinkedIn, but it does not describe my criteria for judging my Twitter relationships.

I also think that the Connection Distance scale is missing the equivalent of As co-workers in the same occupation. That is, there is no category that allows me to judge someone based on my expertise, regardless of how the connection was made.

Getting back to LinkedIn vs. Twitter. The two forums have a very different sensibility. LinkedIn was always intended as a business/career site and has very controlled access to your information. Who you know is a kind of social capital not to be frittered away lightly. The forums are somewhat more relaxed, but I always feel like I'm wearing a three-piece suit when I'm on LinkedIn. Although I want as many connections as possible, I only connect with people I have an existing relationship with and whose worth I have already assessed.

Twitter was never intended as a business medium, but its informal structure makes it quite easy to re-purpose for business. You can connect to anyone who is not explicitly locked.

The metaphor that has resonated with me is that of a cocktail party with so many simultaneous conversations that you can't possibly participate in all of them. But you can drop into almost any conversation to see if it's of interest to you.

I'll initially follow anyone who follows me who is not clearly spamming or whose twitter focus is not completely unrelated to my areas of interest. Later on I might unfollow someone if there doesn't seem enough use value in their Tweets. And retweets.(I DO like to get retweeted).

I think "country" on Twitter is less a function of actual nationality and more a function of commonality of hash tags.

It strikes me that it might be a good time to reread Erving Goffman and see how the presentation of self and framing apply to social media.

I'm gonna run off a follow you on twitter.