Social networking in the computer age is an ongoing process. While anthropologists and sociologists can tell you there is a very long history of human social interaction, the portability and ease of access of today’s mobile devices has enabled the development of the world-wide social network.
A similar social model is the typical high school cafeteria during lunch. Different groups or cliques will coalesce, gravitating to a particular area of the room. Often, groups are defined by their interests or experience. The athletes tend to hang out together and talk sports. Nearby, the cheerleaders who support the athletes will gather. Other groups can be well-defined or loosely associated, often not remaining in a particular location.
Social networks on the internet are similar to the example above. Conversational networks such as Facebook and Twitter rely heavily on dynamic and interactive real-time dialogues. Just as in a cafeteria, multiple conversations happen concurrently, depending on the interest groups involved.
Other social networks cater to specific products or related items. Newegg.com, for example, has a huge social network of electronics geeks. Their interaction is based on the perceived performance of a particular device or software they have purchased, owned, or are contemplating as a future acquisition. Reviews of the products are a significant contributor to the success of Newegg.com. The same principles apply for websites such as Yelp, Amazon and eBay.
There is one I came across recently which is neither popular nor established yet; Neiia.com. Neiia is an experience-driven website, consolidating opinion, reviews, ratings, and narrative description based on a contributor’s experience or knowledge. Some contributors are acknowledged experts in the business community and may have blogs or similar forums for discussion or amplification of their particular subject matter. eHow is the only other major website undertaking this huge task and many report that the users of this site often give some very bad advice. My feeling is that eHow tries to cater to everyone and Neiia.com should take note and focus on one or two categories (business is always a good choice). Experience-based social networking is still in its infancy and only time will tell if the concept remains economically sustainable.
What is fresh and distinctive about Neiia.com is that is does not seek to compete with other websites – some with very long histories – in describing, comparing and contrasting the relative merits or faults of goods, services and activities. Neiia.com fulfills a niche that exists between a first-person experience and a third-party attempting to determine the value of a shared experience.
Users can choose from a number of categories which will enable rapid indexing and speeding search and selection criteria. The category can be an existing category or new categories can be added for those experiences not listed. Categories are demarcated by subject, activity, and source – indicated as “where” in the selection engine – which describe in general terms the nature of the user’s experience. At this point, the user can enter a textual description of their experience.
Travel websites, especially those with on-going relationships with airlines, hotels, rental car companies and similar services, have their own social networks such as Gowalla.com and WikiTravel.org. As any business traveler or frequent flyer can tell you, finding a better way to get from one place to another with as little hassle as possible, is a continuous challenge. Often, it is not the travelling that is the issue, it’s the experience at each end of the actual travels that make or break a trip.
Subject matter is limited by the poster’s experience and knowledge of the places they travelled. Different people sharing the same experience have different opinions about what constitutes quality and value. However, with multiple posters offering their experience of an event, product or service, a consensus opinion can be a valuable aid in determining if someone wishes to pursue a similar experience. The disclaimer commonly used by commodity brokers is apropos: Past performance does not necessarily indicate future results. When reading any review or using any rating system, the filters of common sense and objective analysis are your guideposts. Anything that is too good to be true is more likely not true. Similarly, any negative experience may be an anomaly. Since the content is generated by a poster’s actual experience, the contribution can be viewed as a point of reference.
The future of the electronic social network is assured. What remains unclear is how the network will evolve. Much as political polls are limited by a set number of choices to predict an outcome, social networks comprised of simplistic rating or ranking systems are not viable. In-depth narrative experience seems to be one solution. Granted, subjective opinion and objective analysis can lead to differing conclusions, however, it is a starting point.