What is a Social Network, Anyway? (Hint: It’s Not Geocities!)
Posted by Bob Warfield on October 4, 2007
Marc Andreesen has been annoyed for the last time by people like Steve Ballmer comparing Social Networks like Facebook (or Andreesen’s Ning) to Geocities. His diatribe lays down a great blow-by-blow feature comparison on why Social Networks are not Geocities.
These are important distinctions to make, because they go to the heart of the difference between Web 1.0 and Web 2.0. What do I mean?
It’s a little bit tempting to regard Social Networks as being just what Geocities was: a really easy way for people to create a personalized web page for themselves. Don’t go there, that’s a trap! I know many seasoned Social Network users that do think of it that way, but it belies the important difference. Creating a personalized web page is so Web 1.0. It’s shouting your persona and message without providing any means for anyone to respond. Yeah sure you could stick your email address up there, and it is a form of response, but that’s not what we’re talking about here!
Let’s pick through Andreesen’s list of Facebook features for things that are not strictly a “write only” personal web page:
Can you see the difference all of those things make? I see two big additions to the personal web page idea. First, we have the ability to create relationships with others on the network and have the system remember those relationships over time and use them to good effect. That’s not like sending someone a link to your Geocities page! It creates real affinity between these groups of people and keeps them bouncing off one another.
Second, we have a whole raft of things to do! They are social things to do. They are live and changing. They reach out to others and create actions at a distance on other pages. We can push back and interact with them. Wow! This is a lot more engaging than just staring at someone’s vanity web page (although I am quite proud of mine, BTW!).
And, all of this is packaged in a way that mere mortals can participate fully. Geocities was a cave you could paint petroglyphs on the walls of. Facebook is a modern home. You can go buy furniture for and decorate. It has electricity, running water, and indoor plumbing. There are TV’s, radios, and telephones inside. Friends come to visit.
Ning, BTW, fits this model too. Ning is where you can create your own personalized specialized version of Facebook. It may not be your main home, but it can be your vacation home in the mountains. It can be the hotel you stay in when you go visit a certain place (a group of people with like interests, say, like a conference). Or like a clubhouse where you and your buds like to hang out some of the time.
Pmarca says this stuff really matters, and he’s right. It changes everything. At the same time, it isn’t everything. Your whole web experience is not going to collapse down to just your Facebook page. Social Networks also may not be the final destination on the web. In 5 or 10 years we may be reading that some fool called the new new thing, “Just like Facebook.”