January 25, 2004

Building a Social Network in 48 Hours

Orkut popped up on John Battelle's blog on Friday, and by Friday afternoon there were invites in my inbox (though as I mentioned, I was doing flowers for a wedding, and so missed them until late Friday night). Had many more invites late last night when I got home, and today, invited some others myself, and joined a few communities. Apparently, people were primed for a good social network after the soc-shill faux pas of Friendster, which is primarily for dating, and makes the mistake of thinking that A=B and B=C so therefore A=C. Social relationships aren't transitive, and yet people do want other interesting ways to communicate information amongst people interested in the same things, and ways to look at what others with similar understandings are looking at. Orkut seems to have answered the call.

Apparently, it was developed and tested internally at Google, so many of the first users are Google employees, but now, it's taken the cognoscenti by storm. I wonder, as this is a cool target group, how long this mecca will last before some spammer/marketer gets an account, sending unwanted messages to communities, inviting himself into Orkut multiple times, to keep the spam alive (presumably, they will kick out abusers but they could always invite themselves with new email addresses). Or how will it go for people who might unintentionally do the wrong thing, disturb someone or make a ruckus, causing upset? The people I know personally on this understand online communications, knowing that there are different ways to be online than in the analog world (as Christian Crumlish told me earlier today, who wants to walk around with their fly unzipped while everyone looks on?), though there have been a few blanket posts to all users, which is a little odd. These are issues online social network systems need to work on, some of which are interface issues, and some are architectural.

I hope this succeeds and users find the system useful and nuanced enough to satisfy, but interesting enough to be worth the time and effort such social networking requires (and not too trendy, or too harsh in their posting policies, closing off the network, etc. as Liz Lawley reports). I am excited, and amazed that in 48 hours, Orkut has made something that could engage some many so fast. Though I would point out that this afternoon, they seem to be taking a break, maybe due to their newfound popularity....


UPDATE 1/25/04: Joe Hall makes a good point in the comments about online social networks, where people he didn't know invited him to link to them. This is a problem in many online communities as people have different ideas about how far out in one's experience the linking should go (my friends and closer business relationships, or everyone I know, or everyone including those whose blogs I read and therefore feel like I know, even if we've never met...). Earlier today when Christian and I met to talk about online communications, we reviewed what was happening with Orkut, and he asked me about whether I used the star system to denote a "fan" (you can -- I guess this is the term -- rate your connections). I replied that I did, and in fact, feel like a fan of all my friends and those I'd linked to or invited (I had only gone so far as the "my friends and closer business relationships" category and I do really like them, or appreciate their work, in some way, in every case). He mentioned that this might lead to a stilted relationship where I was subservient, but to me, I wasn't subservient at all. I was simply saying that I think each of these people is fantastic and I feel strongly about that. They all do amazing things, are amazing people, and I want them to know that I think they are great.

But in that regard, others with other conceptions of how wide to cast their network, or how deeply, might characterize only those they are subservient to, with a "fan" star, or might star everyone, even those they don't know, to suck up. You know, all this in a way represents the playground at school, where our social interactions took on different meanings for each of us, and we had to work it out. Orkut is similar, though the manifestations in the digital world are different, counter-intuitive, and we will have to navigate it all over again.

Posted by Mary Hodder at January 25, 2004 04:35 PM | TrackBack

You raise some really good issues, Mary... within 24 hours I had someone asking to be my friend who I had never met or interacted with. It definitely needed some work and I'm glad they've taken it down to tinker with it in the meantime.

Posted by: joe at January 25, 2004 10:03 PM