The Future of Social Networking

Do you get Stephen’s OL Weekly (or Daily)? I have for some time. I have often thought how does he keep it up. I hate routine. The thought of having to do the same thing over and over for weeks and weeks or years and years just fills me with horror. But of course we all have to subject to routines in some way. This week I am rebelling. I am not cleaning the house. It looks OK to me – so hopefully it will to everyone else too!

But routines and cleaning the house are not what set me off on this post. They are just an aside. It was something in Stephen’s weekly that struck a chord. This was it:

Social Networking Condemned to Die. The Problem Is Commitment.
“Facebook is nothing more than a new version of America Online, with lots of calories but not much nutrition.” I find it difficult not to agree with that sentiment (yet I still update my Facebook status and still check out my Scrabble Wordscraper games. “Creates a major problem for Facebook, and for other Web 2.0 social networks. Facebook has created loyalty without value, quantity that drowns quality.” Yes – but the irony is that today’s political laders still respond to quantity over quality, which is why we keep seeing headlines that read Government backs down after facebook protest. See also Facebook’s Face Plant: The Poverty of Social Networks and the Death of Web 2.0. TonNet, education and technology, December 11, 2008 [Link] [Tags: Books, Networks, Web 2.0, Canada] [Comment]

This has been in the back of my mind for some time. I do have a Facebook account, but to be honest I can’t really see the point (apologies if I am offending my friends here). If I have a close contact I prefer to email them. And I really can’t imagine that even my friends are interested in the triviality of my life. I have similar feelings about Twitter, although the CCK08 course made me realise that Twitter is useful if you want information in the moment, for example when the Ustream sessions moved to Elluminate and I couldn’t find everyone. If I had been using my Twitter account (which I don’t) I would have known where everyone is.

And then there was one of the speakers in the Women of Web 2.0 week who said she was a member of 20 Ning groups. Why? How could you possibly keep up with 20 online communties? Communities involve commitment and reciprocity. I have just been invited to join another online group and I had to join to find out what it was all about. I was invited to join by someone I respect, so I felt obliged to look into it, but I know I will not use it. There are only so many groups that I feel I can belong to at any one time and for me that number has to be small – I don’t want to spend my life online and my attention span is short!

The online groups or social networks that work best for me are those based on the principles of communities of practice. I am an online education consultant and work online all the time with groups of learners. I find these experiences, although very time limited, very fulfilling and enriching – a hugely different experience to posting on Facebook. Why do I find this? Well – for the very reason given in the post that Stephen pointed to in his OL weekly – the reason being that in online courses there is commitment – there is a clear domain – we all join round a given subject in which we are all interested – there is a defined area of practice which is associated with the domain and which we all want to share – and because of this need to share and identify with the domain, we are all keen to ensure that the community gels. Etienne Wenger has explained all this for us in his work on communities of practice. A community of practice needs the type of commitment that Facebook and other social networks of this type cannot give us. In addition social networks of the Facebook type don’t gather round a clearly identified domain and there is no requirement to share practice.

So where does this leave us? How will we move from time-limited commitment and connections made in short online courses, to longer term commitments and connections.? Do we need to? Is it just life that some connections will be transitory?

I have made very many passing connections in my online work. But every so often I make a much more lasting one. Currently I am working on a research paper, which explores learner experiences in an online community of practice, with someone who I met on line and who now is a good friend. This has been a very enriching connection. These are the sort of connections that I would like to make online. Connections that involve more than fleeting, passing engagement and where deeper issues can be explored.

Well I’ve overcome the feeling that I have nothing to say – at least for this week!

Before I finish – just to say that I am still keeping an eye on CCK08 blogs.

Have you seen Viplav, Maru and Carlos‘ final presentation. If not, you must. Isn’t this what connectivism is all about. Three people who don’t know each other, from right across the world working together to produce this presentation – gelling their ideas, accepting each other’s differences, communicating to produce a high quality presentation!

And there  are some more here

And there was one that I found earlier in the week and such are my technical skills that I can no longer find it, but it was a Flash presentation showing how weak and strong ties in the network grew and faded as the course progressed. I am really peeved that I can’t now find this presentation as I would have like to keep a record of it.

Thanks to those who have encouraged me to keep blogging.

One day later – Didn’t realise I hadn’t put a title on this post – so I have added one now

13 thoughts on “The Future of Social Networking

  1. Viplav Baxi December 13, 2008 / 1:56 am

    Jenny, a lot of people believe that technology is useful per se 🙂 and are not able to appreciate that its people (or machines) that need to find utility in using them in a particular context.

    In the learning process, Facebook/Twitter may be extremely useful if you are following from a distance to start with – I mean that you do not have a working/close relationship with the person, but you still can (if he/she shares regularly) follow common interest areas and ideas. This following may result in a closer relationship if there is synergy in thoughts and ideas. That may prove very useful. So these platforms encourage networking and learning around common interest areas in an autonomous way.

    Not to say that Facebook or Twitter or any technology cannot ever be interpreted and judged outside the context in which they were created and have evolved. I am not sure the creators of Facebook or Twitter ever felt they were creating a space for people to learn. And quantity can be very good, *sometimes* required for an outcome of good quality to surface (take for example the democratic process).

    Connectivism demands open-ness, autonomy and diversity in the network, as a fundamental pillar for learning. The more we enclose it in spaces such as CoPs, the more we restrict open-ness, autonomy and diversity. However, as you say, experiences of working with others in a CoP that are closely aligned around a common interest area sounds intuitively more practical and meaningful.

    There is an apparent contradiction here, as you can see. That is why George positions networks between individuals and groups or connectives and collectives on a continuum of autonomy and innovation ( This is perhaps a dialectic we will continue to negotiate forever.

    Thanks for your thought provoking post!

  2. Jon K. December 13, 2008 / 2:39 am

    Also, for what it’s worth – online interaction rarely satisfies my social needs – so social networking is only for my friends who are not within arm’s reach so to speak. I don’t like twitter because I am traditionally more oriented towards depth rather than superficial.

  3. suifaijohnmak December 13, 2008 / 2:46 am

    Hi Jenny,
    Great to learn your views on Facebook and the project by Maru, Viplav and Carlos. I have responded to your post on my blog.
    I am always keen to learn from you, in particular on the research areas.
    Again, thanks for helping me in the initial design of the blog.
    I am still blogging along… just couldn’t stop it. It’s just interesting.

  4. jennymackness December 13, 2008 / 9:18 am

    Thank you Matthias and Jon for your quick responses to my blog question. It’s great to locate your presentation Jon as it is certainly worth keeping and remembering. Not self-centred at all to point it out for me. More something to be proud of!

    Thanks also to John. The thought that I could help you with blogging John made me smile. I think you’ve got it well and truly cracked 🙂

    Viplav thank you for your interesting post putting an alternative perspective, which is always so useful. I can see that it was probably never the intention that Facebook or Twitter would be learning networks and that they have a different purpose from communities of practice. I am thinking about these two sentences that you have written:

    Connectivism demands open-ness, autonomy and diversity in the network, as a fundamental pillar for learning. The more we enclose it in spaces such as CoPs, the more we restrict open-ness, autonomy and diversity.

    This is an interesting perspective and one I will think about more, as I’m not sure that a closed space or bounded space such as you find in a CoP (and I’m still thinking about whether a CoP is a closed space) necessarily restricts openness, autonomy and diversity. I think I see all three within CoPs, but I also see commitment, reciprocity and mutual responsibility and for me these are important for learning.

    I think I might come back to this in another post. Thank you Viplav for getting my brain cells moving!


  5. Carmen Tschofen December 13, 2008 / 4:51 pm

    Hi Jenny,
    I can see we’re both still wrestling with what seems to be (for me, at least) the mass of contradictions surrounding openness, diversity, and community. I am very appreciative of the independence afforded in the network concept, and find it especially important as I too often see groups tend toward shallow, discriminatory, and innovation-less processes and analyses. On the other hand, as I talk to those who are engaged in community building, conflict management and other healthy social processes, it’s also very clear that being able to establish more intimate (for lack of a better word) venues of communication where there is a mutual trust that you can puzzle stuff out without being required to defend every word to a broader audience is crucial to relationships of all sorts, even though there can also be negative implications of closed door initiatives. I’ve also wondered if we’re just now getting through the early adopter, Wild West era of social-network-everything to a more selective era. Then again, a lot of people haven’t even entered the arena yet, so maybe this is a premature assessment.
    Glad you’re still blogging!;-)

  6. Keith Lyons December 13, 2008 / 8:35 pm

    Hi Jenny

    Will you be sharing the paper when you have completed it?

    I am delighted you chose writing over housework!


  7. ailsa December 18, 2008 / 8:51 pm

    housework sux 😦
    But I’m glad you blog for the connectivism question for me is an ANT one. What keeps relationships stable or changing, what technology adds or detracts. Seems to boil down to it must be working or people wouldnt be using it…so how it works and whats its influence. This type of question resonated for me as I use what works. I use ATM machines in preference to bank tellers, I like to choose when I relate, sometimes i just dont want to engage to the level that might otherwise be required, or to front up to someone when told there’s no money in the account… seems to fit in with having discretion to be engaged, and fully or not. Tis a question that borders on my own studies, what possible depth can be achieved in use of sms text for counselling…but the demands there so it fulfills some purpose, how then to do it better…
    For teaching and learning, whats the affordances that these various technologies offer to disparate peoples…
    Same for blogging…
    Housework however is only pleasing in the eye of the beholder.

  8. Sui Fai John Mak December 21, 2008 / 11:48 pm

    Isn’t it wonderful to see so many others’ response to your stimulating post?
    Connect or not? That’s an interesting question. As a professional educator (or teacher), how would you decide? Before I engage with this networking concept, I have never thought of the importance of openness, diversity, autonomy and connectedness in networks. And I often doubted why people have to connect if they are just looking for information.
    A typical saying is:”Why blogging if there are no response?” As you mentioned, without reciprocity – say in blogs, forum, what’s the difference between reading a research article, a book or a piece of news?
    I thought I may be “talking” too much in a blog, lol, and not listening, and that may be a problem in such monotone “communication”. In other cases, I may be just an aggregator and sharing information with others, so not much responses may be expected.

    Another problem lies with the “show off, indulging or selling” business type of bloggers that could be perceived by other bloggers or visitors as just “selling” the concept to the world. That is cool!. But that no one would like to respond to them. I have got more than 180 spams, most of them filled with weired, dirty or wicked stuffs.
    A further problem that has been mentioned by Ailsa is the connection that is with a non-human appliance (using an artefact), where one may think, well, I am talking to a machine only, why getting emotional. But instead, there may a person behind that appliance, that’s could a BIG SURPRISE to us. So it’s a tricky situation.

    Jenny, it’s so nice connecting with you, that I always find something different to learn.
    Merry Christmas

  9. Heli December 25, 2008 / 1:47 pm

    Merry Christmas to you Jenny!

    I am happy I opened your blog first when I begun my Christman holiday studies. I hadn’t seen Maru’s and others final works .. it was fine, and many others.
    Nice to see that discussion will continue.

    I found you in the end of our course but now I agree with your thoughts very very much. .. I will follow your blog in the future I am sure about it..

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