It’s a cold world out there. In the beginning there was the walled garden. AOL was a safe place, but in the end it couldn’t compete with the wider network of websites. But once we were out in the cold cruel world, we needed someone to help us find our way around. A personal start page like MyYahoo, or a search engine like Google provided an orientation point for any journey into the network.
Social networking sites like Facebook seem to provide a new entry point that filters the larger network using one’s friends as editors; transparantly journals friend activity; and provides the opportunity to create facets, or nodes of connection, through the assertion of interests (preferred modes of attention) within the social network.
The battle for monetizing the network revolves around which company can provide the best orientation point for entering the network. Facebook puts you into the stream of your friend’s activity. Techmeme puts you into the stream of technology news and opinion. Twitter puts you into an edited collection of small moments, stream of consciousness and conversation. MyYahoo is a personal newspaper. Google is ready to show you whatever you’re interested in. Google Reader puts you in an edited stream of blogs. Del.icio.us puts you into an edited stream of categorized bookmarks and pointers. Mahalo is a variation on Google, it’ll show you whatever you’re interested in, but edits the search result to make it more human readable. Where do you want to enter the network today? Perhaps, I’d like to enter through my teleputer…
Trust is hard to earn and easy to lose. This is the primary lesson for social networking sites, what was so painstakingly created and nutured can be destroyed very easily. The structure of a social network is biological, it’s growth is organic. But it is subject to disease (viruses, the madness of mobs, etc) and environmental factors. For instance, you could introduce social objects (nodes) that aren’t individuals, but representatives of corporate entities. You could ask people within the network to vouch for these new objects. You could have just figured out the best way to monetize the social network as an entry point, or you could have introduced an aggressive weed into your garden. In any case, the ecology of the system is irrevocably altered. Trust is hard to win, easy to lose.