Tales from the Net

a work in progress

Monday, January 21, 2008

“Social Networks from the 80s to the 00s”

Brian McConnell has a guest column on GigaOM giving his historical perspective on (online) social networks and potential future directions. There’s a lot to like here, starting his recognizing of the value of social networks to marginalized communities; he uses PlanetOut and Gay.com as examples, and the more detailed discussion of the recent history of social network sites (1997-2006) in boyd and Ellison’s Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship includes AsianAvenue, BlackPlanet, Mi Gente, and (in a different dimension) tribe.net. Brian also highlights that it’s not a winner-take-all market, and his mention of the increasing attention people are paying to big companies abuse of personal data.

And I certainly hope he’s right about this prediction:

I would bet on a company like WordPress or perhaps Tumblr to come out with a simple tool that makes publishing profiles and updates easy, and that is designed with social search in mind.

That’s certainly a tool I’d use!

There’s a lot that’s left out. He talks about BBSs and Fidonet as important precursors; so are Usenet groups and the Well, and arguably they both have more direct influence on social networks today. The section on social search leaves out Wikia, Mahalo, and Naver (a topic I briefly covered here). In general, the focus is very US-centric and techie-oriented — as, I believe, is GigaOM’s readership. Still, it’s always nice to see people learning from the past without getting caught there; and I think he does an excellent job of articulating the business opportunities that openness creates, and sketching some likely next steps.

The comments are interesting as well, with some great perspective on the PLATO system from Steve Kraus, a lot of people going out of their way to show their lack of understanding of Facebook (something also happening in the Economist’s debate), and this very intriguing remark from Jerome at the Millennium Project:

On the history – Just for the historical record, CARINET (Caribbean Implementation Network) created with in Partnership for Productivity International in 1982/83 using Murry Turoff’s EISE softward linking about 30 developing countries and introductged x.25 and concepts of social networking to many countires in Africa, Latin America, and Asia. But the record seems to be wiped clean of its exsistence.

Sure enough, I had never heard of CARINET … very interesting.

posted by Jon at 2:10 pm  


  1. The historical perspective supports my “PostColonialTech” assertions – and perhaps my theories that these debates remain principally about questions of power.

    Comment by Ira Socol — January 22, 2008 @ 4:19 pm

  2. Indeed. In the thread there, I commented “The US-centricity of a lot of the coverage of these issues means that some of the most interesting prototypes vanish from history …”

    Comment by Jon — January 27, 2008 @ 4:55 pm

  3. Incidentally, several other people have independently brought up this authoring tool as something they’d really like, so I’m not the only one who thinks Brian’s on the money with that.

    Comment by Jon — January 27, 2008 @ 4:58 pm

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