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by Jay Fienberg

Social network magic where place is the space

posted: Jan 4, 2004 4:30:15 PM

David Weinberger has a nifty post on Many-2-Many, Does Social Software Matter?, which I first saw in the context of Marc Canter's good comments on it.

I agree with David's critique of social websites (which I see as a subset of social software), but I think what he is saying really comes down to a single equation: having relationships defined explicitly + logically formal + transitively = not the way we normally define our relationships.

David argues each of these (transitive, formal, explicit) as separate points, which is useful in seeing the potential flaw in each, but I think, in our everyday life, we actually do commonly make use of "any two but not all three" of these modes of relationship.

Actually, I don't know, maybe we make use of all three too. The main thing, I think, is that we negotiate our relationships so dynamically that current technology cannot keep up with it. In particular, I think, however scientifically materialist we are, we all leave a lot of space for old-fashioned magic around our relationships.

I think the big problem with social websites is that they are confined spaces! For business and/or technology reasons, these sites seek to confine relationships to one online space, and sooner or later, they "run out" of space for magic.

With Friendster, after one day, I had like 144,000 people in "my network" (probably due to linking to Marc!). But, what this actually is like is having 144,000 people in stuffed one room. Even on the Internet, there is little or no space to meet people and develop relationships in one space with 144,000 people!!

Social networking is a kind-of magic. The study of it is maybe being embraced by practitioners of scientific methods, but people negotiating relationships is art, and good art is like magic in the sense that you got to be letting the cosmic mojo happen, whatever it is.

The reason why social websites work at first is because they do create a new space where magic can happen. But, trapping people in that space is never going to work in the long run.

When we are trapped, having our relationships defined transitively or formally, or being stuck to an explicit network, is going to be oppressive. When we are not trapped—free range social critters that we are, we are going to magically use relationships transitively or in-step with formally logical permutations, and enjoy many moments when we explicitly define social networks where we appear.

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