Techno-diversity: toward an ecology of (social) networks

In debating the brewing “war” between Facebook, Twitter and GooglePlus it dawned on me that these services are really rather different. It would make greater sense for them to focus on and develop their strengths rather than race to homogenize themselves into identically mediocre platforms.

Twitter does something very unique and the kind of data dynamic that results from Twitters model, the way in which data flows in its network, is very different than that of Facebook because Facebook has primarily been a “walled garden.”  With the advent of groups, news pages, fan/business/institutional pages, this has become less so…but the interaction model is still very different than that of Twitter.  Facebook offers its non-person content files a different sense of “place” – something more static that can more easily collect threads of user content.  Twitter is “faster” and far more impermanent. This is not a better or a worse thing, just different.

Google Plus looks to offer a potentially unique blending of the two. Perhaps this is part of what Facebook is upset about….but one of GooglePlus’ strongest draws so far is its superior social filtering features – the intuitive and usable “Circles.”  See, users liked the ability to post within a walled garden…but we wanted to create rooms.  Facebook’s “lists” (among many other privacy features) were labryinthian nightmares.  But Facebook still has a world of content on there that it should develop ways to respect and protect (enabling searchability, the ability to tag and archive content) rather than trying to run after other services going “Me too!” and cursing the ingenuity of others. If Facebook doesn’t want to go the way of Yahoo’s mistreatment of Flickr or Delicious….it should pull its CEOs out of the parties and think hard about the Information Curation questions from the point of view of its Users (not its commercial sponsors).

I think there could be lots to learn from other network models that had advantages, but suffered executive hubris and neglect.  MySpace was a great site for small businesses and musicians.  Why? Let’s think about this…what could they do on MySpace that they could not do on Facebook?  I’ll touch on some of this later in this post, but feel free to chime in.

Tribe.net…..There is a great amount of content on Tribe.net.  What were the drawbacks in terms of Information Architecture….how did Tribe.net not succeed?  I am not talking about funding or policies..I’m talking primary about Information Architectural models. What was it about Tribe.net that made it “free-er” seeming than Facebook? What was off-putting?

And then there’s Livejournal. I could devote an entire post at least to the lessons we can learn from LJ.  There are many great features it has.  There are surely drawbacks as well.

My primary point however is that all of these need not try to be identical to each other. Yes, they could learn a lot from each other…but it is also good to have choice.  I enjoy Twitter in a different way than Facebook or GooglePlus.  If the latter two could evolve to pick up some of the archiving/search/usability features of LiveJournal….or allow for content promotion (while respecting artists’ content-ownership rights) like MySpace or Flickr….or allow for deep levels of cultural content like Tribe.net….We could really enrich the online cultural environment in ways that 1) in two months or two years content won’t be lost and 2) users could retain ownership of (or at least more easily control) their content rather than be merely providing free consumer research and promotional images and copy.

Facebook/Google+ Wish list

I’m enjoying the migration of personal/professional contacts over to GooglePlus this week and will soon document my thoughts regarding its difference from Facebook, but for now, there are features both networks glaringly do not offer.

I wish that Facebook or GooglePlus had social-bookmarking buttons to delicious.com or diigo.com for example, like published news sites offer.  It would be especially helpful if one is checking one’s feed during a time when one does not have the liberty to read an article, but wishes to flag it for later reading.

I also wish that there was a mechanism like the  ‘memories’ function in Livejournal to save (and tag!) memorable posts. That Facebook has been popular for the past 4 years and one still cannot tag, archive, search or export posts like Livejournal is pretty sad. I don’t know how much Google+ will offer in this regard.  I suspect that between these technical limitations and their ‘we own your content’  TOS,  there might be an uptick in people writing in blogs and using Twitter/FB/G+ for merely social chat and link-sharing.

But yes, there is no digital archiving function in these social networks (at least not personal archiving), nor can one backup one’s content. The lack of any real search or backup for all the other kinds of non-person content (fan pages, groups, institutional and business pages) seems a great risk for content management and data preservation. The librarian in me is bothered by this considerably.  Twitter is (in theory) searchable and is also currently backed up by the Library of Congress. So far the only ones we know is crawling and saving data from Facebook is the NSA.  Google? I have greater expectations for you. Don’t go the Farmville route.