I was floored the other day by the question “why should i engage in a social network?”. On the one hand, i had so many answers that i didn’t know where to start, but on the other, i had no answer.
Personally, I engage with social networks because i get something out of it. What i get out of it varies, depending on which network it is that i’m using. Facebook is a social network, in the truest sense, where my transactions (and they are two way transactions, not one way ‘broadcasts’) are exclusively sociable. LinkedIn is a formal network for me, where my activities are carried out in my formal tone of voice. I both interact and broadcast; my blog and Twitter feeds both ‘broadcast’ through this channel, but i also engage in dialogue.
Twitter is less defined, i use it both socially and formally, it’s an edgeland, the grey area between the two. Alongside the networks that are centred around the specific functionality and features of individual software, i also run my more traditional networks, that use technology as old fashioned as the phone and the pub. The point is that all of my activities are centred, to an extent, around enlightened self interest. Be is social or business, academic or trivial, there is generally something in it for both parties, be it interaction or consumption.
It is, however, quite possible to be active in the social space with no goals whatsoever. The Idle social network. We can engage in spaces where there is no focus of activity, no apparent gain, simply the joy of communication, or the (more nerdy) joy of the system. As developers and entrepreneurs strive to find ever more popular ways of attracting both my time and my money (either directly through subscription, or indirectly through marketing to their audience), they come up with ever cleverer ways to do this. Through games (Warcraft), through offers (Groupon), through new features (Google+), the competition is as strong as the innovation is varied.
In truth, i like the idea of the Idle social network, even if i haven’t yet fully worked out what it is. In fact, i like it so much, i feel it should be the title of a book, the chapters of which i don’t yet see.
So why talk about it now? Because this blog is about collaboration, because if you don’t talk about ideas, they fester and fade, but if you throw them out, you churn them, discuss them and grow them, like tomatoes in the midsummer sun.
The reality is that some people are highly engaged with social networking, others are totally disengaged, and yet more are toying around the edges. The clear truth is that software based networks are bringing about a revolution in communication that matches the emergence of phones and, later, email. They allow real time, cross media, communication, they allow control of who sees what information. They allow both consumption of content and dialogue, alongside ease of publication, divorcing the mastery of technology from creation of content. It is a revolution.
We are changing how we work, how we learn, when we learn, what we learn, how we find things out, how we store things, how we create, how we consume. We work in formal work spaces, in informal social spaces and in crowded edgelands where nobody knows the rules.
I’m happy to be an active explorer and an Idle adventurer. Who knows what lies around the corner? At least i’ll have plenty of people to talk to about it.