Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Social network search and other comments and ideas

Posted by shannonclark on February 15, 2004

or something I really need

So, having recently be contacted by a friend from my distant past, it occurred to me to check whether he was on any of the many networks to which I belong. As I began this process I realized, this is more than silly. It is something that really should not be neccessary to do.

Rather, I should, in theory, be able to search all of the many networks to which I belong at once. Ideally in a way that honors each network’s information access controls and network topology (i.e. some networks may not show information on someone “unconnected” others might show the presence of that member in the network, but request some “proof” that I know them etc.).

This would then be a means by which I might search:

LinkedIn, Spoke, eCademy, Ryze.com, Friendster, Tribe, Orkut and any other network that shows up to which I join (perhaps even quasi networks such as Slashdot’s membership pages etc.

As well, it might be great to have tools which would synch and link my various profiles – that is, provide a means by which my various identities on various networks can be interlinked. If I updated one, it would be nice to update them all, if someone joined my network on one site and was also a member of another site, and I thought the two networks roughly equal in what “joining a network” meant on each site, then could be asked to join my network on the other site as well – would be very nice indeed.

As it stands at the moment I have a truly huge network on some sites – Spoke shows over 9, almost 10 million people in my network (but shows more weak ties than other networks so it is somewhat less useful) but LinkedIn which is mostly stronger ties shows me with a network of nearly 110,000 and counting (much but not all of which is due to a few very highly connected people in my network – Thomas Powers comes to mind, but he is only ~40% of the 2nd degree connections I have, so he is not the only cause of my wide network there.

Over time I think that the many networks currently coming into being will be rationalized in some manner, just what and how I do not know. Already I find myself looking at them and trying to decide which one or ones are worth significent investment – ideally I would like to spread that “bet” around and not be focused on a single network, but rather on the actual “network” of my contacts – vs. the “network” revealed by that portion of each contact’s network they have shown to a given site.

As well, what happened to me this weekend of a friend from my distant past shows the weakness of all of these networks, they do not and indeed cannot show all of someone’s connections. Not just distant friends that have been lost touch with, but the many daily important contacts from coworkers to neighbors to the barrista at your regular cafe or the other regulars at your favorite diner or bar. These contacts are every bit as important in mapping out your “network” as the ones that usually show up online, but rarely are all of these captured by any tool – for one, you rarely email all of the people you see on a daily basis (at least I don’t). Not to mention the many people most of us know and have known for far longer than our current email addresses (family, family friends, childhood playmates, teachers, classmates, coworkers from our first jobs etc.)

So, while many of the online networking software sites are trying to map out our “networks” they are not, in fact, doing this task.

What then are they accomplishing? They are mapping out some subset of our networks, and a similar subset of the people to which we become connected (and on and on). This implies that they will always be somewhat flawed, but understanding this on the part of the site, the members, and new potential members likely, I would claim, results in a more effective and “useful” site.

Specifically, say that instead of the broad “link to whomever you know” a site explicitedly set up a series of criteria for the people you linked to – a broad criteria but something that all the members of the site would agree to and/or could be explicitely embedded into your “link”

– this might be very broad – i.e. business contacts or very narrow “people who like Dr. Who”

But written this way, and opened up so that people can easily and somewhat transparently belong to many networks and quickly and easily participate in them, perhaps we (as users) would find them of significently greater utility.

Anyway just some thoughts on a Sunday night… put out there for people to comment on and ponder.

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