Just read Fred’s article Vibrancy of the online Social Space and wrote a comment there … given the fact that my blogging is coming down I think I repost the comment to the article as blog post. Some snippets from the article:
as I log in, I am engaged by a cross-section of my social relationships. In an instant, information is revealed, opportunities are discovered, and a website becomes a social nexus – from which I can derive a sense of gratification, meaning and identity.
In her 1961 work The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs described the sidewalk ballet of a vital urban environment. Jacobs argued that a vibrant and diverse city should possess four characteristic design elements, the first being that a neighborhood should be multifunction, creating activity throughout the day. Next, a city should have short blocks and its buildings should be multiform, creating interest and promoting exploration by inhabitants. Finally, Jacobs argued for density, in which different populations intersperse, affording variety and shared resources.
Applying Jacobs’ criteria to an online space creates a challenge; as a neighborhood jumps from the physical to the virtual, the nature of its goods changes.
Arguing for shorter blocks, Jacobs felt that this type of design would foster exploration by city dwellers. The “short blocks” analogy is alive and well in online social networks, where the ability to browse and explore fellow network participants fuels use. In a social network, we enumerate our identity as we describe our interests, tag each other, and post on walls and message boards. These “digital traces” are often hyperlinked, permitting endless point-and-click exploration of the social space.
Indeed, online social networks are concentrated; in this sense they are unlike any neighborhood. Social networks allow for the centralization of one’s network in a single place; geographic boundaries are rendered insignificant as we connect across place and time. The social network allows the work friends to intermingle with grade school friends in an odd, often awkward dance.
In a study conducted at Michigan State University (Lampe, 2006), researchers found that friendships in social networks often began offline and migrated online, rather than the other way around.
The social cost of relationship maintenance decreases; the birthday card is replaced with a wall post. We can certainly lament the depersonalization of online interaction, but we can’t impugn the outcome – we are able to manage larger collections of friends with less effort than ever before. Do these extended friend networks increase sociality or simply introduce new digital tethers to our social life? That is a question we’ll work towards answering, as the effects of these digital publics on our real world is explored.
We flirt, we interact, we do business, we seek out information and gratification, finding a complex social world at our fingertips. While the digital spaces we inhabit will have a good deal in common with our cities of concrete and granite, they are unique places with unique challenges. While the technological emphasis of relevance and searchability will create new types of interactions online, it would be wise for developers to pay attention to Jacbos; they will find both the meaning and the letter of her laws instructive.
Fred … nicely written will read this again and hopefully get back with more thoughts. From my personal experience, I see myself making more friends either in the offline or real world and enriching the boards in social networking sites like playing a game of scrabble or doing fun stuff.
However, I make more chance exploration kind of encounters in communities like Flickr and Flickr communities and special niche communities for like minded topics. When we have meetups – I like the interaction and then choose to go online hoping to find the people I liked online and grow the bond richer.
I have never come across party like behaviour in the online space. And yes, I haven’t tried second life as the bandwidth is very less in India. (Feel frustrated about that once I moved back from the Bay Area.)
But, there is one thing you should consider: the influence of the mobile and information convergence it brings on! It was also very interesting to see Steve Jobs showcasing facebook’s beta iPhone site :-) What happens as a next step as your social internet sphere moves with you on the go. What happens in countries like India and other where majority of population in a year or two is going to experience SNS primarily through the mobile??
I am just putting a screen shot from couple of applications to aid your thought process of the visualization of my facebook social sphere. Remember its going to be only 3 months I am on facebook and I am loving it completely. I have around 225 contacts on facebook and around 375 contacts on orkut – all decently meaningful ones so that my interactions there don’t get diluted!