I’m one of four participants in a virtual roundtable for OCLC NextSpace. The others are Fred Stutzman, Lori Bell, and Ed Castronova. I’ll not post their writings here — for that go to the next issue of OCLC NextSpace — but I will post mine here for your comments.

How do you define online social networking? Examples of how it’s working well and not so well…

Relying first on social networked groups to get at a definition, we find that Wikipedia defines social networks as:

a social structure made of nodes (which are generally individuals or organizations) that are tied by one or more specific types of relations, such as values, visions, idea, financial exchange, friends, kinship, dislike, trade, web links, sexual relations, disease transmission (epidemiology), or airline routes.


In its simplest form, a social network is a map of all of the relevant ties between the nodes being studied. The network can also be used to determine the social capital of individual actors. These concepts are often displayed in a social network diagram, where nodes are the points and ties are the lines.

A friend from Europe twittered me that an online social network is an Interactive e-PLAYground community.

This last elides the other work of social networks as seen in LinkedIn and Match and Classmates to name three.

Bourdieu writing in the 80s saw that social networks were defined largely by who was left out, by their exclusiveness and by how they allocated social and knowledge capital to their members to provide them with an advantage over outsiders.

Lin, Burt and Granovetter all notice that closed social networks have certain advantages but the interactions between such networks — not closure or density — are more important to social capital growth and exchange.

Online social networks draw their strength by not just hosting one social network bound by a Dunbar number (150), but a highly porous set of interactions between “natural” social networks. Not just kids at a certain school or from a certain class but a broader mesh of such smaller networks with casual interactions building and supporting stronger interactions. Messages culminating in a meetup say.

Some sites allow social interactions but are not really supporting social networks explicitly (say newspaper site discussion boards), some are swamped by social networks that change the nature of the networks on that site (say Brazilians on Orkut or Burning Man attendees on Friendster).

Whatever the technology, it is the social that actually provides the networks and the interactions.