5 years ago I was a freshman studying computer science in a French engineering school. And I was clearly obsessed by social networks, at a point that I wanted to do everything online. From organising events with online groups to working on school projects with messengers applications.
When I was travelling, I was using Facebook groups to find local advice, tips and even friends to enjoy my stay in a more social way. And I found it wonderful, this ability to connect to anyone, to share anything, to say whatever I want. I also discover that it was a perfect age for me, to be able to finally talk to people in a way that I could understand, something that I could control without being forced to express my emotions.
But I realised soon enough that the drawback of those tools was that once you’re settled, well, you’re settled. And now, you’re staying in your habits and routine that Facebook custom-tailored for you as long as you’re online, without even letting you know.
And it’s getting harder and harder to expand your networks, meet new people, discover new places. I couldn’t just stop my social hunger to a Facebook group, so I needed more and more groups every day.
That’s why, when I was abroad, we (Fabien Richard and I) decided to simplify the social discovery. You can’t imagine how much time I spent to look for groups, to find people, to get information through Facebook, it was definitely time consuming and not effective at all.
The idea was simple, a website to fulfil a desire to stay connected to other students in real life and not only (worldcampus.co). And we faced the “social network” issue : how not to copy Facebook ? How are we different from Linkedin ? What makes our website valuable ? Should we have a friend list ? etc.
That’s why here I want to give my personal definition of a social network that sums up all the research I’ve been doing on social networks those last 3 years.
What is a social network ?
I see social networks as a virtual & augmented contacts list. Every person I met and I appreciate will be either in my phone contacts or on a social network I registered to. It will help me to put a label on any personal relationship.
“ When I made Facebook two years ago my goal was to help people understand what was going on in their world a little better ” — Mark Zuckerberg, 2008
In a way, social network websites are not social anymore, they defined themselves couple of years ago by UGC (users-generated content). When you’re inside a comfort network zone, you just want to keep being accepted by the people that already accepted you, being liked is how we express our notoriety inside our communities. And that’s the opposite way of thinking of travellers, exploring = opening your network.
Reviews vs Persons
Nowadays, the content has more value than individuals, we just need some data and couple of beautiful pictures to state that we are on a social network. But is the content really more valuable than the person posting it ?
You can find plenty of websites that will help you to find places to discover, restaurants to eat, bar to drink, parks to visits. But they will never help you to find a person to experiences those.
We are in a society that wants experts to advise us on everything, but the new generations that grew up with those tools are willing to connect to them instead of reading what they are saying, talking instead of texting.
An Airbnb approach.
In another way, there is this idea of building a community through social attributes (religion, hobby, culture, art, food…).
Recently we’ve seen a new feature on Airbnb that showcases the essence of a community, they are looking forward to connect host and travellers through their mutual passions. Now it’s not only a service that you will use to stay in someone’s flat, it’s an experience you’ll live during a journey.
By doing so, Airbnb ease the real social connection, not in an awkward way like dating applications, but more in a curiosity state of mind. By being part of a group that the person feel belonging to, the stress is lowered and the discovery is simplified.
It’s a huge change that social networks are operating, we are getting bored with our own life, seeing everyone commenting and liking each other became natural and not exciting at all.
On a long shot, we will need to add personal values to our services in order to increase the level of commitment from users. But also to allow the creation of a true emotional bound link with their networks.
Connect vs Connect (Connect as a link)
It’s important to understand what we are talking about when talk about social networks.
There is a huge difference between connecting someone by a virtual link and connect to someone in real life. We totally changed the way we perceive a connection with someone by splitting it into two different worlds, the virtual and the real.
“Facebook helps you connect and share with the people in your life.” — Facebook homepage
The social network revolution digitalize our relationship in a way that we didn’t expect 10 years ago. And that’s why a social transformation will lead a social network transition to something closer to humans, more emotional and into a channel that will have a more real appearance.
This is already starting for the web with the renew of all the web technologies.
From Social Web to Physical Web
Reducing the gap between our physical world and the technology has never been so true.
We overcame the “username” trend to a “real name” user profile. We identify ourselves online by who we are and not who we want to be. We are creating the story of our life with social media by twisting the reality and we are getting bored with that. Now we want to live and experienced rather than story-telling what we want.
The physical web is a Google idea to create seamless interactions with physical objects and locations. It’s becoming popular with IoT and new devices, but social networks will be challenged to be less present in our life but more powerful in our daily physical actions (online payment, identity verification, personal recommendations).
Our network becomes meaningless
“Younger users tend to have significantly larger friend networks than older users: 27% of 18–29 year old Facebook users have more than 500 friends in their network, while 72% of users age 65+ have 100 friends or fewer.” — PewResearch, 2014
The increasing number of connections we are developing will redirect the needs of quality and led users to new platforms where experiences will have more value and where emotions will be the core features.
The new generation knows that better than us, they don’t value those networks as a comfort zone.
Reinventing social network
Well, I’m ain’t a wizard to say how it’s going to end. But I hope that’s we will reinvent social networks in a way that’s truly social. It can be through video technologies, it can be through experiences, it can be through VR, it can be through AI or anything else, as long as we feel something real, we will stay until we get bored again.
I’m writing another article about how I solved those observations on worldcampus.co, stay tuned.
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John Cannarella, Joshua A. Spechler. 2014. Epidemiological modeling of online social network : https://arxiv.org/pdf/1401.4208v1.pdf
More Than 11 Million Young People Have Fled Facebook Since 2011 (According to one analyst estimate) http://business.time.com/2014/01/15/more-than-11-million-young-people-have-fled-facebook-since-2011/
Sherry Turkle: Connected, but alone? (It’s a 2012 reference, I know it’s so old) https://www.ted.com/talks/sherry_turkle_alone_together