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Thoughts on Blogs vs. Social Networks

Facebook's announcement of the Facebook Platform and the ability to add third-party applications to profiles has caused me to re-evaluate my thoughts on what defines blogs and social networks, and particularly where you draw the line between the two types of user-generated content (ugh). Tonight, I came across a post by my blogosphere buddy Kent Newsome on the differences between blogs and social networks and so I felt compelled to commit my thoughts to paper/bits/web/whatever (it also gave me an opportunity to return one of the many links he's been kind enough to give me). Kent mentions that there's a ton of people in the blogosphere that he's friends with that he simple would have never met via Facebook and I echo that sentiment.

That said, I agree more with Jay Neely on the fact that a distinction exists between blogs and social networks. The friend/audience distinction Jay describes is seen by the composition of my personal networks on the two types of networks. My Facebook friends consists largely of people I had a previous relationship with in real life with a few A-list bloggers sprinkled in there for the mutual ego boost. After some thought, I realized that there exists an underlying difference that can draw a firm line between blogs and social networks. Facebook is not a place to make new friends, it's a place to interact with existing ones. The blogosphere, on the other hand, is the complete opposite: it facilitates and rewards growth of contacts and communication amongst strangers. This is evident on many levels:

For one, there exists a social stigma about approaching new people on Facebook (it is perceived as "stalker-ish"). This stigma simply doesn't exist in the blogosphere and the mentality is in fact the opposite, as can be seen from the rise of blog search engines such as Technorati and Google Blog Search and the ease of sending trackbacks and leaving comments.

More fundamentally, however, is the fact that Facebook has set up walls between its internal networks. In the blogosphere, this is akin to only being able to use the two-line Google search description as criteria for deciding to link to a blog. And if you do decide the two-line description is adequate enough to link to a blog AND the blogger decides to let your link through (since all "links" between people are moderated on Facebook), then you simply get the "About Me" page with some comments (although I'll admit this will change now that Facebook has opened up a bit and third-party applications are allowed).

Finally, social network profiles are largely static and therefore not very conducive to sustained interaction on the network. Like I said above, how many comments and links would a post-less blog with only an "About Me" page get? Not many. The reason why social networks continue to flourish, then, is that connections created on the network will continue to exist despite this lack of interaction on the network is that the interaction happens off the network. Social networks facilitate interaction off the network, whereas the blogosphere is defined by the interaction that takes place on the (ad-hoc) network.

I don't think either will disappear in lieu of the other, nor will one absorb the other, as I believe the two types of networks serve different purposes. It has been possible for a while to integrate blogs onto social network profiles, but the tools for posting and interacting are much better on full-blown blogs that I haven't seen anyone close down their Wordpress blogs in favor of Facebook Notes or a MySpace blog (Twitter, on the other hand, is a different story :)) Tools notwithstanding, I think that the differences I mentioned above are enough to keep the blogosphere and social networks distinct.

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Comments (1) left to “Thoughts on Blogs vs. Social Networks”

  1. Jay Neely wrote:

    Hello Martin! Thanks for the link, and let me start by saying that you've written some excellent points, particularly in your second to last paragraph. The one mistake I think you make is on focusing on Facebook as the primary example of a social network.

    Almost every social network site encourages you to find and invite your friends on, because that's how they get more users. But many social networks are designed to encourage finding new people a lot more than on Facebook. Tribe.net is all about "finding your community", which is less about people you know and more about an interest you all share. It still has the profiles, and private messaging, but groups and the message boards on them are presented as the primary components of Tribe, unlike Facebook where it's the other way around(profiles primary, groups secondary).

    LinkedIn.com is a professionals network in which you must connect with the people you know, so that you gain access to the people they know, and then access to the people those people know. By having six "1st-degree" connections, I have access to 14,500+ "2nd-degree" connections, and 1,104,300+ "3rd-degree" connections. Those are people I can browse through to find potential partners, employees, people who are hiring, etc. And LinkedIn's "Answers" sections lets a user ask a question, which is presented to the extended network, so that you can get answers and find new people who answered best.

    Social networks' foundations are built on the people you know, but many of those networks are designed to make it easy for you to add to those people you know. It's not an audience, like writing a blog, it's a pool of potential friends.

    Best,
    Jay Neely
    http://socialstrategist.com