Joi Ito's Web

Joi Ito's conversation with the living web.

Suw blogs about Yet Another Pointless Social Network (YAPSN) issues. Interesting post and something that I've been observing myself. How can you get people to keep coming back to a Social Network Service like Orkut or Friendster once the initial fun of creating the network is gone? I think that a lot of the YAPSNs focus too much on the size of your network. When Orkut was publishing the "most networked" top 10, everyone was running to have the biggest network. It was a game. I now have 1001 "friends". Whoopie! This is incredibly useless data for me. Sending a message to all of them would be spam. I really don't have much use for Orkut's network at this point other than to fiddle around and look at pictures when I'm bored. (Some of the communities on Orkut are interesting so I drop in from time to time.)

I personally find LinkedIn useful. (Not just because Reid is my friend.) LinkedIn is not about fun. It's about work. There is really no way to have too much fun on LinkedIn, so my network is very utilitarian and I'm mostly connected to only people I actually know and would write a reference for. This is a useful data set. You'd think LinkedIn wouldn't be viral since it's not that much fun, but it's growing faster than any of the social network services.

But as Suw points out, social networking is a natural byproduct of doing things like photo sharing and music listening. I think that the way for many of these YAPSNs to survive will be to integrate with external sites such as and flickr. However, once you've grown your social network to 1001 friends, there really isn't any way to unpollute your data so at least for me, I can't imagine how Orkut could become more useful to me. I guess I could eBay my Orkut account and start again. ;-P


eBay that sucker! brilliant idea.

Over in Europe it's "openBC" that sets much of the tone. is similar to LinkedIn, yet curiously attracts most German, Scandinavia and Dutch users for the moment, but is set to expand rapidly throughout Europe. I came to OpenBC via LinkedIn and got to LinkedIn via Orkut. It would be fun to see if it isn't possible to construct a meta-FOAF. So, the comment on survival for these communities being based on linking to external FOAF types functional communities isn't lost on me.

I wonder how much the number of complaints over 'YASN doesn't work because my network is too big' are simply because the people writing about Orkut &c are the people who are at the centre of the whole thing. In other words, it could well be that Orkut works wonderfully for people further out, with 30 or 40 friends. But it'd take social software bloggers a lot longer to notice.

Not meant as a criticism of you or anyone else, Joi, and most of the points you make seem reasonable. I never joined Orkut, so I wouldn't know.

That's a VERY good point Dan.

Yeah, you're absolutely right, Joi.

LinkedIn isn't fun, it's functional. It has a purpose and that purpose is to facilitate business networking and insofar as that purpose goes, LinkedIn is successful. If I had a need to get more business coming my way, I would use LinkedIn more. As it is, I get most of my leads through blogging and IRC so my LinkedIn profile is way out of date and I only ever go to the site when someone links to me.

Orkut, however, really missed the boat by not providing a way to extract benefit from one's network. The messaging system is, as you so rightly point out, just a spamming system. The communities and messageboards are just too clumsily executed for me to want to use them. If they had created messageboards that were usable (I always hold up the Elliott Smith forum on BlamoNet as an example really good messageboard functionality) then maybe the communities would be more active and that would provide the draw. As it is, once you've befriended every Tom, Dick and Harry that you've ever met, there's little left to do. Jeanniecool pointed out that Orkut is kinda useful in terms of tracking birthdays, but even that's a very limited benefit and not one that's great enough to keep me going back.

I think that if Orkut is going to be successful in the long term, they are going to have to seriously reconsider their offering. It's all well and good having a social network, but what use is that network if you can't socialise? Most of my online socialising is done in IRC, IM or through blogging. Maybe if Orkut combines some aspect of real time interaction and blogging/messageboards it could win back its registered-but-disinterested users and maintain some semblance of usefulness.

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