Posts Tagged ‘social networks’

Building a community: Just because it’s a social network doesn’t mean it’s a community.

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Yelp via Flickr Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works

Yelp and Facebook have a lot in common.  As I wrote in my last two posts, they both emphasize or require the use of real profiles and they use people’s concerns about their reputations to motivate activity and interaction on the site.

But Yelp and Facebook are fundamentally different.  In short, Yelp is a community and Facebook is not.

Although Facebook is a social network, it is not a community.  It began as a social network for Harvard students, basing itself on the existing connections within that community.  When it grew, it grew from community to community, from Ivy League universities to all colleges to high schools and then certain corporations, before becoming open to anyone with an email address.  When people interacted with other people on Facebook, it didn’t feel as funny or sleazy or strange as interacting with a stranger in a chatroom.  You might not have personally known a new friend, but he likely knew someone you knew.  Facebook emphasized real people and real connections.

So Facebook certainly contains communities.  It contains people who know each other from college, elementary school, an office, or even a party.  But it is not in and of itself a community. 

There is no ethos or set of values that all Facebook users share together.

Facebook users may be active on the site, but they don’t write status updates, upload photos, and play Farmville for Facebook.  They do it for themselves and for the people they want to interact with.  If another social network came along that was better, their friends were there, and it was easy to transfer their profiles, people would do it without a single pang of disloyalty.  It’s why Facebook has resisted calls for portability of profile data.  As addicted as people claim to be, no one calls himself a Facebooker.

In contrast, many people consider themselves Yelpers and Wikipedians. Yelpers have inside jokes and a self-conscious recognition that Yelpers are a tribe.  The Yelp Elite Squad gets together at events, while Wikipedians gather at Wikimania.  Although Facebook may have more users interacting in the offline world than any other site, it’s never an activity organized by or devoted to Facebook.

To me, the biggest reason for this difference is that Yelp and Wikipedia have a mission and Facebook does not.

The Wikimedia Foundation obviously has a mission; it’s a nonprofit organization with altruistic goals.  In a recent survey of Wikipedians, when asked why they contributed, 73% indicated, “I like the idea of sharing knowledge and want to contribute to it,” while 69% said “I saw an error I wanted to fix.”  They’re motivated in part by their belief in Wikipedia’s mission, to provide knowledge for the world. Yelp may not have a mission in a traditional sense, but its goal to provide informative reviews of local businesses is one that’s shared enthusiastically by many of its reviewers.  As a result, the users on Yelp are helping to create Yelp’s product, reviews, while the users on Wikipedia are helping to create Wikipedia’s product, the encyclopedia.

Facebook, in contrast, has a stated mission but it means nothing to its users.  No one joins Facebook because he believes in Facebook’s mission.  He joins because that’s where his friends are.  He is not interested in helping Facebook create a product.  In fact, as Bruce Schneier put it,

“Alice is not Facebook’s customer.  Alice is Facebook’s product.”

Facebook itself admits more or less that it has no interest in building a community.  Rather, it’s building “info aggregation with a great photos app.”.  It’s why it’s trying it’s hardest to become Twitter, and why it keeps trying to think of new ways to make more of its members personal information public.

In the mix

Thursday, July 2nd, 2009

Got a Minute? Set Some Government Data Free with Transparency Corps (ReadWriteWeb)

Social Network Users Reportedly Concerned About Priacy, But Behavior Says Otherwise (ReadWriteWeb)

Bloomberg Releasing City Data Online in Hopes Developers Will Create New and Better Mobile Apps (NY Daily News)

Ad industry groups agree to privacy guidelines (CNET News)

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