by adam mathes
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Ad Hoc Social Networking

When I look at what people are saying about Consumating - the tag-centric personals site Ben and I created - sometimes I see it referred to as a “social networking” site.

Which is a little bit odd, because it’s not a “social networking” site in the way most people use the term now. It’s not like Friendster or MySpace or The Facebook, where (arguably) the concept was to explicitly define your friends and use that articulated social network as a way to meet friends of friends and others n degrees removed.

Friendster (and sixdegrees other predecessors) took as a basic concept that it would be “cool” to see who you were connected to a few degrees away, and that you could leverage the trust and relationships you already had to help create new relationship.

(If I were still a real academic, I’d be citing Caroline Haythornthwaite’s work on strong, weak, and latent ties through new media at the very least to ground my use of the word “ties.” But I’m a graduate now, and spouting off ideas half-cocked on the web comes far more naturally than properly forming them into essays and citing sources.)

Personally, I found making new contacts through existing friend networks to be… not so much the case. I generally already know who my friends’ friends are, and if I wanted to be friends with them, I probably would have done something about it already. This may (probably, almost assuredly) be particular to my own generally antisocial nature. Most of the time I’ve been friends with individuals and generally had no interest in being part of any larger social group they may have been a part of.

But regardless, it always seemed to me that the sort of thing facilitated or made easier by the technology of articulated social networking sites was nothing all that interesting in terms of communication, and was not really a substantive change in the way people interacted or met people or formed ties and relationships. If anything, it was just a marginal incremental improvement. Of course, I very well could be missing something, I was never a big user of these services or follower of the buzz and research on them. But as MySpace overtook Friendster - and let you see and contact anyone, regardless of their degrees away, it seemed that the “social network” aspects of these sites in the original formulation may have been overhyped.

What I always felt the web and new forms of technology and media were really interesting for was their ability to help form and strengthen ties that normally would be very difficult or impossible because of geography or generally the inability to find others with similar interests. I think this view sort of dates me to 1995 and puts me in league with the cyber-utopians in some ways. Not that I agree with everything they said, but it’s hard to have really important life-changing experiences happen to you directly as a result of your web presence and online activity (my life would be very different if I had not met the people I had met from web activities in college) and not think that at least some of what they said was valid on some level, even if the utopian society-changing aspects were extremely exaggerated.

This is important because I think this overall viewpoint (which I think Ben shares in his own way) is more of what Consumating is about. While Consumating isn’t making your network of friends explicit, through tags - labels, keywords, whatever you prefer to call those chunks of metadata - it is making some attempt to make your interests and characteristics and self description explicit, and connect people in those ways. I think what we’re attempting to do here is create implicit and ad hoc social networks (or at least create the opportunities to form new ties and networks) based on these arbitrary user-entered criteria. Criteria that Ben and I quite possibly will not even comprehend.

I realize I said I’d write more about Consumating multiple times on this site, and this really isn’t very much. Not that it’s much of an excuse, but I am and will be very busy. (Moving across the country is hard, even when you have a lots of help.)

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