articulated vs. behavior-driven networks

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.

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1 thought on “articulated vs. behavior-driven networks

  1. Jen

    For many reasons I’m glad we can’t capture all the subtleties of human relationships both in ethnographic research and in designing digital systems. I think it keeps us “safe” from machines completely taking over our lives,as well as reiterates what a damn good job nature does and how poorly we humans do in coming close to replicating it. 😉

    Like most things, the answer is probably somewhere between the lines. As far as articulation goes, watching people “advertise” themselves on Friendster, various personals sites, and even in resume form can be quite painful. It’s a skill, one that can be learned if not inherent, but it’s tough. There’s an inherent need to impress, to make yourself socially acceptable (in one form or another, even if it’s to other social *misfits*), to sell yourself as sexually attractive, as a potential job-seeker, as not psychotic, etc. I’d be curious to conduct a study where one evaluates the difference between what people say about themselves on these sites and what the people who interact with them actually say/think about them. It might help in understanding how much of a gap there is between how people represent themselves and how they are actually seen in the world.

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