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What is missing from Social Networks is the social

13 September, 2010 (16:25) | social media, technology | By: Shannon Clark

I have been active in Social Networks online for multiple decades, long before the first sites that described themselves as social networks were formed and long before the current major sites – Facebook, LinkedIn, MySpace etc were created. But increasingly I think there are some vital missing elements to actual social behaviors which are missing from most so-called social networks online.

In the past month I have started to get spammed on many social networks, not spammed via the messages but spammed by friend/connect requests on both Facebook and increasingly LinkedIn. On LinkedIn I am now getting about 10 but at times more than 20 connection requests a day with well over 99% of them being from complete and utter strangers, individuals with whom I share at most one connection on LinkedIn and individuals who claim that either “we are friends” or that “we have done business” occasionally they claim that “we are colleagues” at a company I have never heard of.

In all cases they are indicative that a large number of people on LinkedIn are connecting with strangers and that the claimed descriptions of connections are suspect at best.

I’ve also gotten similar, though at a lower volume, friend requests on Facebook – again from near total strangers. In the case of Facebook most of these were clearly spammers, accounts that were nearly identical but with a different photo and a single spam link to an external site. That type of spam was a problem for a few days then nearly completely died away which is a sign that Facebook probably caught on to how the spammers were creating these accounts and blocked them.

However as I have been playing a lot of “social” games on Facebook I have found myself wishing for a way to connect, myself, to near (or actual) strangers, to form new connections around a shared interest in a given game, most of which at most one person in my large Facebook network have even tried in the past let alone are actively playing.

What Social Networks need is a new form of connection – not a friend or colleague but a new, future connection

This new form of connection would be in the case of LinkedIn an appropriate way to share some information with a potential client, a new business contact, without making a stronger or permanent connection. On Facebook this new form of connection would be for making friends, it might be limited to a shared interest or application with by default only a limited exposure of your additional social information.

Sure if you are a truly advanced Facebook user you might achieve a variation of this today with careful use of lists and privacy settings, but even highly technical users of Facebook get befuddled by the privacy settings and very few people have set up complex sets of groups of friends on Facebook and set varying permissions for each group. I know I haven’t.

The idea would be to help prune the explosion of truly weak ties which appear to these networks to be the same as stronger, deeper ties. In a professional context this would be used for those folks you have just met and exchanged business cards with – increasingly this may happen via exchanging social network information (Twitter handles, LinkedIn/Facebook profiles etc) but today this results in often very weak ties cluttering up our social graphs.

For me my criteria for social network connections are fairly strict.

  • Facebook – people I would invite to my house for a dinner party
  • LinkedIn – people whom I would accept a referral from and would refer new business

Yet I find myself wanting to connect with many more people, people who I don’t yet know well enough to decide whether I would have them over for a dinner party or whether I would work with them or trust their business judgment. I also have many people whom I might not know well enough to have over for dinner or to work with but whom I would connect with in another context. People with whom I might want to play casual social games with or people whom I want to follow and get to know professionally.

In short social networks both personal and professional should support the making of new friends, the growing of your professional network, the landing of new clients. But at the moment they do not and the efforts to fudge them, to overload the connections is, in fact, reducing the value of these networks.

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