Friday, March 07, 2008

Social Networking Patterns

I've had some interesting reaction to my post on Social Networking, that I wrote basically to apologize for making people wasting their time. After concluding that social networking is probably some sophisticated IT warfare weapon developed to harm productivity of the western countries, I've had an interesting conversation with Giulio Cesare Solaroli, the mind behind the Clipperz online password manager, about the fact that as platforms are becoming more open, intercepting users behavioral pattern is a key concern for any social web application.

I am not quite sure if the notion of pattern fits exactly the situation, but I blogged about it before, and then found site WikiPatterns which published a consistent catalog of behavioral patterns, that reflect themselves in the shape if the information. There are more than 50 patterns and antipatterns just for a Wiki, in a scenario with some evident boundaries, like

  • People are told to go to a wiki
  • The people working on a wiki are already some kind of group (development team, company, etc.)
  • They should share a common goal

A social networking tool such as LinkedIn, Naymz or Spock, has a similar high-level goal which is provide some form of valuable knowledge as a result of individual contributions by the user, but is far more open. Nobody asks you to go on a platform (well, … somebody invites you…), you're not necessarily part of the same group, and there is no such thing as "the common goal". I've asked myself "why do I keep my LinkedIn page updated?", and here are the answers.

  1. I like learning how a new tool works
  2. It's useful for my marketing as a freelance
  3. It's useful for my job, cause Web 2.0 and the like are part of my consulting portfolio
  4. I can't stand fake or incomplete information
  5. I hate writing CVs and LinkedIn looks like the right place to write information only once
  6. Vanity

There are probably some more reasons, but here we are talking only about the relationship between me and the tool. For some of my friends reasons are completely different, and some other are not on linked in and they're not interested to move in. But the tool is a networking platform, and this means that a lot more variables and scenarios are possible. I'll drop down something.

  1. What if somebody wants to connect with you and you don't know him?
  2. What if somebody wants to connect with you and you don't remember him?
  3. What if a friend connects with you but not in the right position?
  4. What if a friend endorses you for the wrong position?
  5. What if somebody asks for an endorsement?
  6. What if somebody endorses you, but you have no direct experience about the way he/she works?

Ok, one can develop some sort of "SocialNetiquette", but thinking about it is some sort of undesired side effect (it wastes brain cycles). But the key point, at least for me, is that I couldn't make up a consistent behavior. In other words, I don't give the same answer to the same question – after all, I am a consultant, so "It depends" is my mantra… As a result, some of my connection are strong, related to people I know well, that I've worked with and so on, but some are not. Are we abusing the tool? Or we're still using the tool the way it was intended. Or… does this question actually make sense?

A key argument about all Web 2.0 technologies is that providing strict rules about the way a tool is used is a losing approach. Tools should instead "follow" users needs and ideas and transform themselves into something that wasn't exactly planned in the beginning. It's sort of seeding something and then taking care of what's growing. More realistically, Linkedin can't ban users because they connected without knowing each other well enough (would you like to be interviewed by linkedIn police about your connections?), so its body of knowledge is made up of contributors which are not providing a consistent behavior (as individuals and as a crowd), which are posting incomplete and sometimes wrong information. Yet it works.

I still have the feeling of being part of a big experiment, but according to the Hitchhikers' guide to the galaxy, this does not necessarily mean that I am stupid.


Unknown said...

Interesting theories you've posited re: LinkedIn specifically, and social networking in general. I can't comment to the latter, but I have been using LinkedIn for about a year or so, for many of the same reasons you are, in fact.

There is a growing set of norms for how to act/react in LinkedIn, and I believe there actually may be three sets for the three relatively distinct categories of users.

1) Power Users - these are the individuals that gather thousands of names and contacts. My experience, albeit of only a year, indicates that these individuals tend to either use their massive "rolodex" for business purposes (ie, recruiters, business development / sales, marketing, etc), for prestige (naming rights, so to speak, to having the most contacts), or because they think that is an indicator of success in the "social networking game".

2) Minimalists - provide very little information if any about themselves; rarely interact with others. These individuals are either new to social networking / LinkedIn (this includes those that joined solely because someone recommended they needed to, but have not done anything else with it), or they are intentionally (either due to protectionist personal values, or caution relative to their current employer) or unintentionally (don't know / don't care what's proper yet for a profile) flying under the radar.

3) Standard Users - individuals with say, 30-150 (??) 1st-level contacts, who only use LinkedIn for their immediate contacts. This could be because they don't understand the concept yet, are not comfortable with the openness that social networking implies / needs, and/or feel that they only want to connect with and stay in contact with those that they know and trust (treating these systems in an "inner sanctum" kind of way).

Actually, I have to add a fourth group, "Expanders" since I've fallen into this new group myself. An Expander is someone that is in transition or is in a mix of more than one of the other groups. For example, I used to believe in only connecting with those individuals that I have some form of positive relationship with. Having 25 years total IT and business experience, and 15 of that in consulting, I still don't have all those individuals in my network and I've nearing 800 1st-level contacts. However, I have relatively recently starting reaching out to others with similar strengths and goals, such as other CIOs / CTOs, others specializing in data warehousing, business process management, CRM, BI, etc. So while I don't consider myself a fully open networker, I am more than willing to connect with others that I have not met or worked with yet, so that we can all benefit with our combined knowledge.

I've written a bit about LinkedIn in some of my own blog posts. Since I blog about executive IT job search tactics, I have noted LinkedIn as my system of choice, and have described how I use the system to network and find leads.

You can find my blog at mark cummuta. Let me know what you think ... and send me an invitation to link if you like! :-D

Mark Cummuta
CIO, MBA, Author, USMC

Unknown said...

Hi Mark,

to be honest, one of your blog posts ha been pointed out by Andrey Golub, and was at the source of this reasoning. You can find that it's linked in my previous post on the same topic. So, the whole web 2.0 stuff is just needed to have three folks talk on the same topic. :-)

What I've realized is the most interesting part of the Social networking and Web 2.0 arena i the fact that a crowd behaviour emereges from very different individual behavioural patterns. You can think with a "rules of the game" as an individual, bute every individual is playing his own game. The result is sort of "crowd patterns" and a clustered but valuable body of knowledge.

Unknown said...


Yes, I remember reading your first post, as well. In addition to the "Networking is Easier Than You Think" article, I have written several times about LinkedIn in other posts, as well.

Also, I've enjoyed our discussion so much, I referred to this post and sequence of comments in a recent article comment on search engines and methods (

Thanks, mate!

Mark Cummuta