Wednesday, December 08, 2004

What's the difference between social networks and online communities?

Lee LeFever at Common Craft has a thoughtful post comparing social networking to online communities. He writes:

I mean “social networking” to mean sites/communities like Orkut, Tribe, Ryze, etc.

I mean “traditional online communities” to mean discussion or message board-based communities (there are a million variations).

Following are the points that I believe make the biggest differences:

  • Use of the Member Profile
  • Identity without Collaboration
  • Explicit Relationships with Forums and People
  • New Forum/Group Creation
  • Network Centric Navigation

And then goes on to provide detail for each of his points. Like I said, thoughtful.

And more though-provoking than I can probably deal with right now.

I've been trying to hard to think about how social networking can provide support for nonprofit organizations. For me, sites like Care2 don't quite make it. I think there is value in creating an ad hoc social networking site around a community. That is, I want access to member profile in the way that Lee writes about but I also want to access the way in which the use the site.

Let me take a directory that CompuMentor has been involved in: TechFinder. As a technology consultant, it would be great if the site had social networking features, like a member profile and group forming capabilities, so that I could use them to connect with other service providers. That's interesting but...

For me, the real possibility is ad hoc social networking features among the users. So, let's say that I'm logged in to TechSoup and I've already given permission to share a certain level of information1. So, I go to TechFinder to find a database consultant in my area. When I get my search results, I also see other TechSoup registered users who ran a similar search in my area. I have an option to contact them and find out what, if anything, they know about these database consultants. This gives me an opportunity to, very quickly and for a very specific purpose, make someone my "friend." I get their help solving a problem and then our temporal relationship is dissolved -- unless we take specific steps to take the relationship further.

I don't know how hard this would be, from a technical standpoint. Any opinions? Any examples of this kind of feature?

1The point of that sentence is really just to say that I know there are privacy concerns and then need to be explicitly dealt with in a completely transparent way that includes, but doesn't harness, the user.

(in: social_networking, online_communities, adhoc_group_forming)