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11/8/2006
12:00 AM
Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd
Commentary
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Users and Groups: Which Goes First?

I recently made a quick tour of the leading professional social networking solutions, more or less against my personal preferences. A few years ago, I became so disenchanted with all the social spam that I was receiving that I dropped out from a long list of services, including LinkedIn, Tribe.net, and many others.

The emergence of "prosumer"-oriented social networking -- MySpace, Facebook, Flickr, Last.fm, and others -- has been fast and furious, and the basic orientation is perhaps the reason that so many more people are getting involved in these services compared to the professional ones.

Nearly all the successful social networking applications are user-centric: an individual user joins for personal reasons – finding new music, sharing photos with friends, etc. – posts a personal profile, and then builds a set of contacts, either by inviting existing friends, discovering existing friends already using the service, or meeting completely new people.

The cornerstone of user-centric solutions is the user profile. Users characterize themselves by various attributes, which may include these:

1.    Educational background
2.    Job history
3.    Address
4.    Wants or likes, such as music, books, sports, and the like
5.    Haves, like a company searching for an additional partner
6.    Contacts
7.    Sexual preference
8.    Relationship status

Users' profiles may also include more dynamic information, such as mood, current geographical location, or blog-like posts. Profiles may also dynamically include information pulled from other sites and services, such as RSS feeds from a blog, or presence on an instant messaging service, like AIM or Skype.

In a sense, these user-centric services support the individual's presentation of self. LinkedIn, one of the most successful of the professional social networks has adopted the user-centric model, while others, like openBC (now Xing), have not. In these services, the starting point is the definition of self, and the user's relationships with other individuals.

I think that this is one of the real distinctions between older "groupware" models and the newer, Web 2.0 applications: the starting point of groupware is groups. A user is more likely to be defined by membership in groups than by a profile and personal network. [Notably, solutions like Basecamp -- a social media based project management solution -- is more aligned with the user concept of Lotus Notes than it is with Facebook.]

So, I wonder if the professional use of a solution like Facebook -- which I have been using for a few weeks, now -- is far away. I have never gravitated to the six degrees of freedom stuff -- getting introductions to the friend of a friend of a friend -- because it all seems so tenuous. I naturally orient myself toward the presentation of self approach because it's more like blogging, I guess.

That's why I argue that the individual is the new group, and the best collaboration and social tools going forward will really be built for the individual, not for groups.

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