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Tag Archives: social network

How Social Are Social Networks?

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The Internet, we’re told, brings people together — and I’d certainly say that it can perform that function; it allows those with a common interest, whether that’s ancient sports cars, cutting edge technology or butterflies to gather together no matter where they are on the planet.

But does it really bring us closer together? Research commissioned by Optus recently suggested that despite the massive numbers of people using social networks — not to mention the plethora of networks one could belong to — we still don’t feel as though we’re communicating with those that we’re “close” to as much as we’d like.

The research focused on Facebook, where (according to the Optus statistics) the average Australian has 165 “friends”. Of those average 165, only  33 of them are said to be “close” friends, but 45 per cent of those surveyed felt that social networks make them feel less close to their family and friends.

It’s worth bearing in mind here that you can spin statistics any way you like; it’s not immediately apparent from the released research what the other 55 per cent thought of social networks in terms of closeness, for example. Still, I can see a few reasons why, despite social networks offering another way to communicate, it might make some feel a little isolated.

The most obvious one is the issue of privacy. Not just from the network that you’re on — although Facebook can be difficult in terms of setting and keeping your privacy intact — but the privacy of what you say, and who you’re saying it to. If you’re the extroverted type, that may not be a problem, but those who are a little more shy would probably find the archival nature of a social network like Facebook a little offputting. You can delete individual posts or comments, but what’s typed there is still published for some time — and if it’s not on your account, you may not be able to delete it at all.

There’s also the question of matching the right social networks to the right use. Some networks are particularly focused; LinkedIn, for example has a strong professional focus, where Facebook or Google+ are a lot more freewheeling. Twitter’s arguably more free than anything else, save for the restriction on the number of characters within a post; that may lead to brevity, but it can also make it hard to make a complex point or hold a truly meaningful discussion. It’s certainly possible for social networking chat to be drowned out by the general noise — I’ve got a few “friends” on my own Facebook list, for example, who are inordinately fond of posting many pictures in sequence, which can drown out the communications with others.

Ultimately, I think social networks are just tools for a purpose; if you’re feeling as though they make you less social, is that a fault of the tool or the user?


Do We Need Another Social Network?

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It seems you can’t take two steps without stepping over a mention of Facebook. Just in the past week, I’ve attended a launch of two new phones (the budget-priced HTC ChaCha and Salsa, and yes, those are the product names), both of which feature prominent “F” buttons. Not in a non-family friendly sense; these are buttons that directly link your activity on the smartphone at the time to your Facebook account. So if you’re taking a photo, it’ll upload that photo to Facebook. If you’re browsing the Web, it’ll share that link, and so on.

At the same time that Facebook seems to have taken over the lives of an increasing proportion of the Internet community, Google’s soft-launched its latest social networking platform. This isn’t Google’s first crack at an online social community platform. Google Wave sank without much note and Google Buzz invited criticism for its seeming lack of actual privacy. The latest social network to emerge from Google is known simply as Google+.

Google+’s basic layout is a mix of what you’d expect if you’re an existing Facebook user with a lighter layout tone, such as you’d expect out of Google. It’s early days as yet — so far, the only way to get onto Google+ is via invitation, and the early release of Google+ saw the company restrict invites several times due to overload issues. There’s a few neat inbuilt touches that Google+ brings to the social networking scene. Instead of “friending” people, you add them to self-defined “circles”. These can be friends, acquaintances — basically anything you like, as you’re the only one who sees your friend definitions. Then when you post anything, you choose which circles see your content.

This also highlights a key difference (at the moment) between Google+ and Facebook. Facebook’s “friending” is a two way relationship, where once a friendship is established, both sides see all posts from both people, unless specifically noted otherwise through Facebook’s often labyrinthine privacy menus. Google+’s “Circles” offer one-way sharing. You can add anybody to a circle, but all you’re doing is posting to them; there’s no implicit agreement that they’ll then share material back with you.

It’s early days for Google+ as yet. I do like the interface, which is cleaner and quicker than Facebook, not to mention uncluttered with things like Farmville”¦ so far. Having said that, what Google’s done is being described by the company as a “field trial” of the service, and it’ll need a significant uptake of users to start seriously challenging Facebook.

What do you think? Are you willing (or even interested) in taking on another social network?


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