My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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Which YASNS is best?

Over and over again, people tell me that one of the YASNS is *far* better than any of the other ones. Usually, they want me to agree with them. Sometimes, people just ask me which one i think is best.

Given that this is me, i have a problem with this question. My problem is not personal or political… it’s contextual. In this case, “best” is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, i often ask people what *they* want in a YASNS. Almost always, there’s one overwhelming factor that makes one YASNS better than another for the individual: “people like me.”

In a post-finals hallucinatory state, i decided to attend a gathering with some of my peers last December. A group gathered into a “panel” to talk about social software. One very smart, very respected VC spoke about how she believed that LinkedIn was hands down the best YASNS. I found myself speaking… or more accurately exploding because of her conception. It’s not that i don’t believe that LinkedIn was the best for her – i truly do. It’s that i don’t believe that there is a universal best.

When i was interviewing early Friendster adopters about the site, over and over again, they told me that they loved it because it was a site fool of cool hipsters like them. They identified with the people on the site and they loved feeling like everywhere they turned, they saw other people that they thought were cool. They were not looking forward to it being mainstream because then there will be duds on the system. Each sub-hipster group was likely to run across more people like them depending on their linking structure. (Homophily again.) Because most people joined under one context, they never saw the other “non-hipsters” that they dealt with in everyday life. When that started happening, they were disappointed.

When Orkut exploded, all of the social software fiends jumped on the train like it was going to Disney World. It was the end-all be-all of the YASNS. Of course it was… to them… It was filled with people like them – their colleagues, those that they respect, etc. It felt like home.

Guess what? At Tribe.net, there are lots of people who feel at home and spend exorbitant hours on the service. Same with MySpace. Same with Everyone’s Connected. Same with Live Journal.

The battle is not simply about the best tools. In fact, that’s a truly secondary issue. It’s about motivating a coherent group to join, participate and make it home. What makes the best pub? Is it really the beer or the price? Hell, the only reason that the music usually matters is because it draws people that you like to the pub. It’s the combination of environment and people.. but the environment brings the people so the environment DOES matter.

There’s an architectural lesson there… Environment matters because it draws the right people. This is why niche shit works. The biggest joke about the Internet is that the most profitable services are barely public. They address a niche market completely. One of the most unfortunate things about social software is that everyone is trying to court everyone to their service. Frankly, a far more appropriate response would be to try to figure out which users are most suited for your tool given its current state and then try to meet their needs completely. Figure out your audience. And don’t simply focus on your desired audience because the tool you created may not have met their needs… be able to shift if you find that you’ve built something far more appropriate for another group. Cause frankly? If you have, the users know it and are using it more completely there.

[Note: Friendster’s popularity in Asia isn’t because it’s a good tool; it’s because the way the site was structured met that population’s needs/desires without much translation. It was inadvertently and accidentally best for them, not well designed for them.]

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12 comments to Which YASNS is best?

  • F. Randall Farmer

    When Orkut exploded, all of the social software fiends jumped on the train like it was going to Disney World. It was the end-all be-all of the YASNS. Of course it was… to them… It was filled with people like them – their colleagues, those that they respect, etc. It felt like home.

    You can say that again! Even though I’m limiting my connections to people I’ve actually had a conversation with, I’m downright popular on Orkut, with almost 100 ‘friends.’ This is really odd to me, being a first class, socially inept, geek.

    As groucho Marx put it:

    I sent the club a wire stating,
    PLEASE ACCEPT MY RESIGNATION.
    I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB
    THAT WILL ACCEPT ME AS A MEMBER.

    Any social network that has me as a popular member is not very social at all. 🙂 Of my true-life friends, less than 1% are on Orkut.

    Randy

  • Scott Moore

    And don’t simply focus on your desired audience because the tool you created may not have met their needs…

    As someone who designs tools for a specific audience to connect and develop relationships, if I build something that doesn’t meet the needs of my intended audience, then I have failed to listen to and understand the needs of my intended audience. Of course, this does require the iterative design and development process you have advocated.

    I don’t mean to completely dismiss the idea of building tools and then finding an audience who needs that tool. I live to see creative new uses of tools since they lead us to new ideas. I think it’s not a very efficient way of building tools. Late night TV is littered with tools looking for an audience.

  • I’m certainly not arguing for tools looking for an audience. That’s always an atrocious approach. But often the tools are repurposed in unexpected ways. SMS wasn’t developed for teenage chat, but once those teenagers owned it and incorporated it into their lives, the telco companies paid attention and restructured some of the technology to meet the needs of an unexpected audience.

  • Orkut 2.0

    There’s been much talk lately about Orkut, especially with the latest news of its untimely demise. Amidst all this discussion, however, some individuals have raised some interesting have been some interesting points about Orkut, and SNS in general. Tom…

  • Orkut 2.0

    There’s been much talk lately about Orkut, especially with the latest news of its untimely demise. Amidst all this discussion, however, some individuals have raised some interesting have been some interesting points about Orkut, and SNS in general. Tom…

  • Scott Moore

    Thanks for the clarification, I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth.

  • Orkut 2.0

    There’s been much talk lately about Orkut, especially with the latest news of its untimely demise. Amidst all this discussion, however, some individuals have raised some interesting have been some interesting points about Orkut, and SNS in general. Tom…

  • May 12 Panel on Non Fiction Media (Blogging v. Journalism)

    YAJvBP. Okay it doesn’t have the ring of a YASN, but what does? Anyway, I’m hoping this discussion is less about Journalism v. Blogs and more about how they complement each other, how they differ and why that is important…

  • May 12 Panel on Non Fiction Media (Blogging v. Journalism)

    YAJvBP. Okay it doesn’t have the ring of a YASN, but what does? Anyway, I’m hoping this discussion is less about Journalism v. Blogs and more about how they complement each other, how they differ and why that is important…

  • May 12 Panel on Non Fiction Media (Blogging v. Journalism)

    YAJvBP. Okay it doesn’t have the ring of a YASN, but what does? Anyway, I’m hoping this discussion is less about Journalism v. Blogs and more about how they complement each other, how they differ and why that is important…

  • May 12 Panel on Non Fiction Media (Blogging v. Journalism)

    YAJvBP. Okay it doesn’t have the ring of a YASN, but what does? Anyway, I’m hoping this discussion is less about Journalism v. Blogs and more about how they complement each other, how they differ and why that is important…

  • May 12 Panel on Non Fiction Media (Blogging v. Journalism)

    YAJvBP. Okay it doesn’t have the ring of a YASN, but what does? Anyway, I’m hoping this discussion is less about Journalism v. Blogs and more about how they complement each other, how they differ and why that is important…