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Social networking: Collaboration, Aggregation or Disintermediation?

6 January, 2009

This last year has been a year for the rise of the social network aggregator, or, if not a tool, the rise of aggregation through collaboration. I discovered this to my own horror when I realised that my Twitter posts were appearing as Facebook status updates. I had done this so that I could appear more active in places where I wasn’t (really). Cheating, I know, and a lesson that I learnt. When I was Twittering a conference I was at in early December with about 45 updates over the course of an hour, my Facebook friends were spammed with status updates from me including hash tags that meant nothing to them, about something that wasn’t of interest. I am still in the process of disconnecting all these networks from each other.

So – lesson one – don’t take the short cut on allowing one social media service to update another without thought. The audiences are different, the purpose is different, and in the end, what I realised is that that Facebook is for friends and Twitter is for followers – and they aren’t the same group of people.

Now, thinking about Aggregation and Disintermediation. Disintermediation is one of those great words that are always a contender for “what does that really mean”. It means taking out the intermediary (the middle man) – in this case the social network service itself. But first, aggregation.

We’ve seen a huge number of social media/network aggregation services arise. These are aimed at allowing us to keep tabs on what our various friends are up to on the various networks that they might play in. In theory – through a single interface, we can follow what people are doing/saying on Twitter, Flickr, Digg, Facebook, Twine, MySpace, Bebo, Qik, Mashable etc. Many of these also work on mobile phones – so in theory we have a single site/application that allows us to keep in touch with all of our networks all of the time. Some examples: Plaxo Pulse (nice one), Friendfeed (from ex-Google peeps), Xumii (on mobile), Flock (browser based), Profilactic (one of the first) and a range of others. For a good overview/review, see Fabric of Folly’s great review at http://www.fabricoffolly.com/2008/03/review-of-social-aggregators.html.

So, in 2008, there were a few sites that heralded social aggregators as the big thing of the year. I wonder if 2009 will be the year of social disintermediation rather than aggregation. We are seeing this in a few sites already – often, to me, incorrectly named as aggregation. I’ve written about this before – the concept of social network as ‘feature’ not ‘function’. Yahoo integrated this last year, and there are a host of sites that are coming up that include some form of social media/network within them.

My experience in with collaboration really brought home the idea that there are different networks for different purposes for good reason. What I want to do is often determined by where I am, and what I am doing. So, when I am loading pictures in Flickr – I’m interested in what my friends have been up to in Flickr and would love for Flickr to tell me what my friends have done there recently. When I’m reading the news online, I would love it if I could see what my friends had be commenting on, rating or tagging on that news site; when I’m in iTunes – that same – what are my friends buying, listening to etc. To my mind, this is exactly what I think Facebook does. When I am in Facebook, I am interested in what my friends have been doing – so all their updates are relevant to me at this time.

I suppose that what I really would like is context with my social aggregation. I want to be able to see what my friends have been doing online that is relevant, wherever I am at the time. I want to see the footprints they leave as they travel across the net, so I can walk down some of those same paths. I also don’t want to have to go somewhere special to see this (the aggregator) but want it bought to me where I am right now and where they actions in this space are relevant to what I looking at/listening to/doing.

In summary, I guess what I want is contextually relevant social media that is given to me where I am, rather than making me go and find it.

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One comment

  1. this morning’s SMH had a piece on Lance Armstrong in Australia, based on his Twitter tweets. Not sure if this qualifies as aggregation of social media by traditional media, or it’s just expedient journalism.

    The implications of following paths suggested by folksonomy are really interesting, aren’t they?



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