This morning, i presented Social Network Fragments to an audience of computer graphics aficionados. The talk went well and, conveniently, I finished up by talking about the emergence of articulated social networking systems. I say that this was convenient because folks were riled up to talk about Friendster and thus focused their questions on that.
In the process of giving this talk (and answering 2 hours of on and off stage questions), i found myself addressing a clear distinction between behavior-driven networks (i.e. email, phone records), articulated networks (i.e. LJ, blogrolling, Friendster, etc.) and real social networks. Neither behavior-driven or articulated networks are actually completely representative of an individual’s real network. They are both stand-ins used by researchers and system designers to deal with the fact that people have a deep understanding of the nuances of their relationships, yet they are dreadful at discussing them.
Many social networks researchers ask people to list their closest friends. In these scenarios, there is little motivation to impress the researcher, yet people are still not exact about prioritizing and indicating everyone in their life. In public articulated networks, a whole new conundrum appears one has to articulate one’s network as a public essence and thus must also show face in doing so. Behavior-driven networks are not the end-all-be-all either. I talk to many people more often than my best friend, but it’s the depth and value of our conversations that make her so important to me.
When it comes to devising systems that capitalize on people’s networks, we’re pretty dreadful at assuring that they are truly meaningful. They are improperly segmented, poorly prioritized and their public nature requires them to be quite artificial. Additionally, articulation of our identity in any form is not our best suit. Figuring out how to take this into account is quite fascinating. Perhaps the answer lies somewhere between behavior-driven and articulation? Perhaps not.