I’m already in more than half-a-dozen online social networks, and just last week was invited to two brand new ones. One represented the first time I was invited to a socialnet built by someone using Ning, the other a new business social network called Doostang.
While I think these networks are fundamental tools for Web sites, I’m now frowzy about them. I don’t for the most part seek to grow my networks — I was aggressive about inviting people to LinkedIn a few years ago, but stopped after breaking past the 150-connection mark. The 150 number is what social scientists think was probably the maximum village group in early human history. I am now at close to 300 connections, but almost always because people now invite me to join their networks, so I’m part of their 150 connections.
I have taken an interest in Facebook, which I joined after three people invited me in one week. I like many elements of how it is organized, and what I can manage. It’s also more personal than something like LinkedIn, and, for me, easier to use than MySpace (it also lacks the spam of that network). All the rest of my networks are basically untended. I even found that I hadn’t gone to Second Life in so long that I lost all three of my friends. Frankly, I find just treading water on two or three networks a time sink (and I’m not including social sites like Flickr).
These social networks have a surface purpose — getting better jobs or friends or dates — but also an evolutionary function – you rack up big online networks and then show them off, as if they said something about our prospects (or, perhaps, our parties). In some cases, as Owen Thomas notes, they’re part of our personal marketing effort, so they really can enhance our prospects. But in most cases I think they’re digital peacock feathers.
I note that none of the social networks I’m on feature a good calendaring function. That’s probably because most of us don’t actually want our networks to see our calendar. My guess is that this will start to change — I was interviewing David Weinberger today for my next Prototype column, and he mentioned that Jimmy Wales used to have it set up so that anyone could schedule an appointment with him just by going to his public calendar and snaring some time (I went and looked and that no longer seems to be the case). As with our parties, we will have to deal anew with the awkwardness of deciding who does not get access to our to-do list or get to see what we really have on our schedule that we claim prevents us from seeing them. A whole new form of social hazard looks poised to emerge.