Social Networks – Why are they so popular?

The Web is more a social creation than a technical one. I designed it for a social effect – to help people work together – and not as a technical toy. The ultimate goal of the Web is to support and improve our weblike existence in the world. We chump into families, associations, and companies. We develop trust across the miles and distrust around the corner. What we believe, endorse, agree with, and depend on is representable and, increasingly, represented on the Web. We all have to ensure that society we build with the Web is the sort we intend.

Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web *

When I started working at Wingman one of my first projects was related with travelling (the same project I referred in my previous post). Everybody knows that a must have for any travelling website is its capability of integrating a social network that supports reviews, comments, recommendations, etc. Resuming, it’s critical for its success! So when we started having ideas for the social network, I faced it as a natural project requirement. But then I went to another project, and another, and another, and in almost everyone of them we used some kind of social tool! As a newbie in this area I started thinking: “We use social in everything!! What does it have that is so special?”.

As an attempt to find an answer to my questions I went to Wingman’s library (it’s not a real library, just a bookcase with some books) and picked up a book called “Designing for the Social Web” by Joshua Porter. When I started reading this book I understood why social networks are so special, and why almost every website, specially e-commerce websites, need them to survive.

Let’s first have a look on what a social network is: Wikipedia says that a “social network is a Social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of interdependency, such as values, visions, ideas, financial exchange, friendship, sexual relationships, kinship, dislike, conflict or trade.” As you can see social networks are not dependent from technology, in fact, they have been among us since humans exist. We are innately social creatures, we exhibit social behavior, and live in social groups. The consequences of our social nature is that our behavior is profoundly influenced by the people we know and groups we join.

However, our social groups are not the only thing affecting our behavior. As psychologist Kurt Lewin says “an individual’s behavior is a function of both their personality and their environment.” Traditionally there can be two different environments: a social environment (social groups, etc.)  and a physical environment (weather conditions, etc.). Both these types of environment combined with our personality define how we behave.

However, how the concept of social networks, so natural among the non-technological world, became so popular in a virtual technology-based world?

By reading the book from Joshua Porter and from my own experience, I came to a conclusion. In this Information Age we are simply overwhelmed with the amount of information we have to deal everyday. When we join a social network typically the first thing we do is to connect with the people we already know in the physical world. People with who we share values, visions, ideas, etc. So social networks are helping people manage their attention in a world where it is increasingly hard to do so. They help us connect with people who have the same interests we have and focus our attention on what really matters. These concept is known as Attention Economy. A proof of this is the Amazon Effect. Amazon was on of the first e-commerce sites to implement customer reviews. This social tool that allowed people to see others recommendations on a given product. This simple social functionality that provided users with information not biased by sellers, acted as a magnet pull of Amazon. Suddenly people had the truth, this made all the difference.

But where does social software fits in the law defined by Lewin?

Logically fits in the environment variable. But what type of environment: physical or social? Being environment what defines what we can and can not do, when we are using a social application what defines what we can and can not do is the user interface. As Joshua Porter says “While we are intuitively aware of this […] we rarely reflect on how much our behavior is determined by the interface we use”.

The big challenge of social software is to build interfaces that support the behavior of the people who use them. Many have succeeded here. Take for examples, cases of Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, etc.

Resuming, social networks became so popular because they support our inactely social behavior: they allow us to form social groups with people that share the same interests with us, focus our attention on our interests and share opinions, recommendations and other types of information with others.

* quote taken from “Designing for the Social Web” by Joshua Porter

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3 Responses

  1. nice post, this information very helpfull, thanks for sharing..l’lltry to do it soon,..good luck admin

  2. I think online social networks coincide with the theory of evolution. The advancement of technology and the internet has become insurmountable and social networking has followed in its footsteps. Due to the popularity of the World Wide Web, social relationships have also crossed over into the virtual realm, allowing people to interact and connect more frequently. We are, in fact, social creatures, and I believe it is in our human condition to stay connected, whether it be face to face or online.

    However, referring back to evolution, what will attain the attention of social networkers when Facebook and Twitter fade, just as MySpace has? What do we have to look forward to in the social media sphere? Check out how, eZanga.com, a search engine that specializes in pay-per-click advertising, has revamped social networking with their recently launched site, http://www.HopOnThis.com. Integrated rewards possibly the next best thing in the social media sphere?

    • Hi LQuinn!
      Thanks for your comment!
      In my opinion the next years of social networks will be not on changing the paradigms and concepts we have today but on integrating the networks we make part, meaning that the profile I have Twitter will be the same profile I have in Facebook, Linkedin, etc. Profile sharing it’s not new and there has been much talking in previous years about this issue with people being divided if it’s a good or bad thing. In my opinion it’s a very good idea! Don’t you get upset if you want to update your profile and have to do same in every network you make part?

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