Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Social Network is Disconnected From the Web

There are so many web sites and pages out there—around 350 million websites and the social network does not connect to them. What percentage of those sites, pages, and elements of content have integrations and what percentage do not? The majority of web content has no social integration. This begs the question about what it means for a social network to be connected to the web. Yes, what is a social network and what is a connection to a content type we have yet to define?
The Network
A social network on the web is an application that connects people in software with specific relationships so they can interact on the web. But on the web? Is that the whole web? Or, is that just a portion of the web? Currently when it is just a portion of the web, it seems to satisfy the definition. But, what if it could be the entire web? What if it could be all sites, all pages, and all content?
The Connections
So, we know what a social network is. Now then, what does it mean to connect people? By connecting people you enable them to interact. You enable them to exchange. These connections are the binding properties that create a channel of transfer for interactions. That channel is limited by other properties of the channel. One of those properties could be time of day when interactions between the two connected parties are allowed to occur. Or, the channel could be constrained by the frequency of interaction over a period of time. Other properties can simply describe the connection. One descriptor could be used to qualify the relationship like “father” or just “friend.”
Interaction is Messaging
Interaction over these channels is just messaging. You can send a message, which could be text or media or a combination of those, to another person or persons. So when you connect with people, you then have the ability to send them messages. But, where are those messages and how are they sent, delivered, and received? From where can they be sent and where can they be received?

Messaging in a typical social network usually occurs in the domain of the social network. You use a form on that website to send a message. Associated with the form and the conversation is the original message which is the subject matter for the conversation. People send messages back and forth regarding that subject matter.

These messaging interactions seem to be pretty limited when it comes to a typical social network.
This messaging can also happen on sites or pages outside of the social network's domain via satellite integrations. These satellite integrations reside on any page or site outside the social network domain and consume web services to display content stored at the social network. This content pulled in by the integration is displayed in an area designated by the non-social network website's designers and developers. The designers and developers decide beforehand what the subject matter will be that people will message about. (This contrasts with the scenario within the social network’s website where the users choose their own subject matter when initiating a conversation. The social network users who join in the messaging in one of these satellite integrations do not get to choose the subject matter.) Usually the predetermined subject matter is the primary subject matter on a page such as an article in a news site. When users enter their comment, it is attributed to a conversation about a subject matter that may not be exactly what they intend to discuss on that page. They may want to discuss a subset of the content on that page like one of the photos accompanying the article or just a quote from the article.

Then people may also want to comment on portions of a site or page where there is no integration. What if they want to discuss the site logo or an advertisement on that page? In order to do so, a user would have to do some tricky technical maneuvering like finding the path to an image and then pasting it into their social network home page. Or they would have to use the satellite integration for which the subject matter does not apply to the logo or any content not specifically designated for that integration. The user's options do not enable them well. If the user does figure out how to comment on an image in the page by copying the path to the image and pasting it in their social network home page, they then take that subject matter out of its context in order to talk about it with their friends. Not only do they take it out of its original context, but they give it a completely different context: some page in the social network domain.
The context is the origin of the content. For example, if the content or subject matter is an image, the context is the page in which the user found the image. The context is very important to how people perceive the element on which they are commenting. A picture of a rock alone is certainly not as interesting as a picture of a rock as an inset to an article describing a new form of naturally occurring stable nuclear fuel.
Commenting on an element out of context, like where it might appear inside the social network’s domain after being shared, means so much less than commenting on that same element in its original context. When taking subject matter out of its original context, not only is it removed from the information describing it but the subject matter is given a completely different context: some page in the social network domain. So, not only is information important to subject matter missing but unrelated irrelevant information now frames the subject matter potentially increasing confusion. In a typical scenario in today’s social networks, sharing the image of the rock from the article mentioned above would mean so little to anyone who did not see the rock in its original context. The messaging would probably end up being a bunch of questions asking about the significance of the rock or worse, there would be no messaging except for the original message. People would be either confused or uninterested. Because of this “context discarding,” the conversations in the typical social network model do not have immediate access to the context of the subject matter and therefore yield much lower quality conversations than they could had the conversation occurred in the context of the subject matter.
It is possible to message in context but this in context messaging depends on the satellite integrations—the subject matter is predefined during the integration, as described previously, which can be very confusing to subsequent users who also message in the same integration point.
The web is eternal and so should the conversations on and about the web be. People in every day life often pick up conversations they had previously with another person. At one point two people will have a conversation about some piece of news. Later when they meet again, they pick up their conversation. Sometimes people have a thought that relates to a previous conversation they had with someone and they will send that thought to the other person in some manner such as a phone call, an email, or maybe just a text message. Subjects reappear in our minds all the time after having left the forefront of our consciousness. We think again about these subjects and we may have in the time that passed developed a new thought or opinion of the subject which we want to share with a person with whom we already discussed the subject matter some time in the past. This is all typical conversation scenario. But, in a social network, most of the conversations of the past are very difficult to find later. You can’t just go find that conversation again and start commenting again.
What if someone could join the conversation that you had previously without having been in the conversation at the time the conversation occurred? Longer conversations of this type occur in forums or comment sections on pages. A person can jump into a conversation that is eternal and continue the discussion with their own thoughts. It often does not matter how long the comment section has been in the page or how old the subject matter is, the conversation can continue as long as there are people who want to join the conversation.
The standard conversation format in a social network is a combination of short-term and eternal formats. The conversation can continue and more people can add to the conversation but the time between when the conversation began and the current time reduces the prominence of the conversation. A conversation that loses prominence over time due to the length of time expired only is of the short-term format. The longer a conversation has been continued, the less prominent the standard social network makes the conversation. But that does not mean that someone who could have access to this conversation may not find it to be the most prominent subject matter in their own mind at some later time. If they do want to talk about the subject matter of some conversation that occurred some time ago, it is highly unlikely they will find that conversation. That conversation will have effectively ceased to exist and he will start the conversation all over again. When they start the conversation again, they will have to comment on that content pretty quickly. Shortly, that subject matter and its associated conversation will not show up for their social network contacts. The conversation will end but not because they have finished commenting but because of some arbitrary time constraint.
All of this affects our ability to make like-minded connections—connections with people who think similarly about interests the parties have in common. If when browsing we see content that interests us and about which we have a particular opinion, how do we find someone else who also is interested in this content and may have an opinion we appreciate? In the typical scenario we would not be able to find such people easily. In the social network silo’ed pages, you might bump into someone but only if you happened to match up with the timing of someone sharing that subject matter you find interesting and that you were close enough in their connections to see their comments and learn their opinions. The design of the messaging in most social networks makes it more difficult to find like-minded people with which to extend our circle of friends. When we have actual connections with like-minded people, our conversations can be deeper, lengthier, more intense, and more meaningful than the conversations we have with people in passing. When people comment in a comment section of a website, they rarely are commenting with people they know. And, when they have conversations with the people to whom they have explicit connections in their social network, the conversations rarely match with the subject matter that interests us most. Our offline friendships are often driven by situational contexts rather than subjects of interest. For example, most people are connected in their social networks with their family. Other situational contexts that lead to online social network connections are church membership, common employers, or random public meetings like at a bar on Friday night. Does this mean that the conversations they will have with these contacts will be about subjects in which both users are equally deeply interested? It is not likely. The conversations will most likely be about subjects in which the participators are equally less interested or disproportionately interested.
Our connections typically do not lead to deep meaningful conversations and the social network is disconnected in such a way from the rest of the web that it makes it difficult to make connections based on common ground between people.

The disconnect
As a user traversing the web, you never know if someone has shared or commented on any part of the web unless there is some integration, and integrations are rare relative to the number of websites, web pages, and elements of content. For most of the web and all of its subject matter and elements of content, users do not know what of that content may have been the subject of some conversation in a social network. Looking at a particular photo, it may have been shared 10 times on some social network but you would never know. Not only do you not know how many times it has been shared but you do not know by whom or what the conversations may have been. Conversations that social networks have for any particular subject matter are disconnected from the subject matter in it’s own context: the web.
If you were to pretend that a particular image, that had been shared and discussed many times on the social network, were a door and you could open that door to find all of those conversations, then you would have a connection again. But those conversations would unfortunately still be subject to the lack of context with which they were previously scarred.
This door does not exist. The connections from the content on the web to the conversations about that content rarely exists and when they do they are poor connections. The social network is disconnected from the web.

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