Sunday, February 11, 2007

Can you engineer a social network?

Can you engineer a social network? I‘m being quite serious, and I‘ve been getting a lot of mileage of late by asking hard questions. So I ask: Can anyone point to a very effective social network that emerged from some sort of grand organizational strategy? A predetermined plan?

Everyone is pursuing the Holy Grail of hyper-productive social networks. We all want some of that magic for our organizations. Here‘s the rub, I don‘t think you can engineer it. I think you can create the conditions: e.g. being more transparent, flatter, open. You can provide the mechanisms, e.g. the underlying technologies. I don‘t believe you can engineer actual communities, however, and by trying you may be doing more harm than good.

I‘ve been thinking about this for a long time, but it was Bruno Giussani‘s notes from Lift07 on Stowe Boyd's talk that started me to think on this again, social = me first.

The individual is the new group. The most successful social applications today are those that allow individuals to pursue what they're interested in, and then deal with affiliation and participating in markets. What happens is that the edge dissolves the center. If you allow people to put their interests first, you put power in their hands. People create groupings and affiliate with others based on those interests, and it's really them at the center of this network of people that matters.

There you have it. I‘m waiting to be convinced otherwise.

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