I have to admit that I came to Web 2.0–the social Web–late. My personal Facebook page is only a few years old and is often neglected. I’ve wondered why it doesn’t hold much interest for me. An insightful presentation about social networks
by Paul Adams, Senior User Experience Researcher at Google, has helped me understand the problem.
According to Adams, social networking sites bear little resemblance to real life, where we have distinct groups of “friends.” These independent groups include family, work colleagues, classmates, teammates, members of organizations, etc. Rarely do people in these groups interact with each other. In fact, we often try to keep them apart because they don’t mix well. We compartmentalize our relationships, acting differently with one set of people than with another.
The problem occurs when everyone is tossed into the same Friend container in an online social network. For instance, your Facebook “friends” may consist of your mother, cousins, high school buddies, college roommates, someone you met on an airplane, co-workers and on and on. How do you behave with this diverse group? There’s no easy way to direct information to just some people or to filter it from others. As Adams points out, “Who likes status updates about other people’s eating habits?”
Another issue is your relationship with people in your various groups. Sociologists identify strong ties and weak ties. Strong ties are the people you care about most. Think about it: How many people in your life fall into that category? For Americans, it’s between two and six. On Facebook, people average 130 friends, yet interact regularly with only 4 to 6 of them. So again, there’s a disconnect between what may interest close ties and weak ones. After absorbing this research, I now realize that my resistance to social networking stems from trying to shoehorn real life relationships into a flawed online model. But there’s hope…
The purpose of Adams’s research is to help Google’s design team come up with a better mousetrap. Google has watched with alarm as Facebook’s ranks have swelled to over 500 million. Facebook is now a fierce competitor and a potential threat. Buzz
, Google’s recent foray into social networking, ignited a privacy controversy
, then sputtered out, so it’s back to the drawing board to come up with the next new thing. Can Google create a service that models how we socialize in the real world? Hopefully the engineers are studying Adams’ findings.