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Social Portal or Social Network

Catching up on reading recently I picked up and article titled Everywhere and nowhere that I had set aside regarding social networks appearing in the March 19, 2008 edition of the Economist. The question raised is whether there is a business behind the current crop of Social Networking sites. I don't have a dog in that fight. I was struck however by a comment by Charlene Li of Forrester Research. She observed future social networks “will be like air. They will be anywhere and everywhere we need and want them to be.” No more logging on to Facebook just to see the “news feed” of updates from your friends; instead it will come straight to your e-mail inbox, RSS reader or instant messenger. No need to upload photos to Facebook to show them to friends, since those with privacy permissions in your electronic address book can automatically get them.

I think this is a wonderful observation. As it relates to RSS I do have a dog in the fight. Right now I believe the opportunities for RSS/XML syndication to improve user experiences in our network world is grossly under appreciated. This has been highlighted recently as I have worked with business executives that are not familiar with RSS based tools. I will cover those discussions in a separate post. What I think is interesting for this discussion and about Charlene Li's observation is the difference between a “social portal” and a “social network”. As the tools and services evolve I hope that these definitions will start to evolve to better reflect what is happening.

Networks are generally thought of as nodes with interconnectivity. When I visit Facebook as an example I am viewing a window into a social network. It is only one of my social networks that I see through that window. I have a similar view of my working social network at Attensa in our Clearspace community and other views of other areas of my social network elsewhere. I am beginning to think of these as Social Portals. When these portals are all connected they form my Social Network.

You can probably see this one coming….. how do I connect them in order to form my social network? RSS. I do not want to be misunderstood on this point. I am not saying that RSS is the center of my network I am simply saying that it is plumbing that allows me to observe and interact with my entire network.

This may not make sense if your view of RSS is based on a traditional RSS reader or aggregation portal. Most peoples is, even those using RSS to monitor the live web. Expanding this perspective has been the fun part of showing business people what can be done with the Attensa solution. Our recently completed version 3.0 shows the promise of RSS and the fulfillment the concept of “social networks” by providing a framework for both “subscribing” and “publishing” across the bounds of “social portals”. Using this tool I can participate and interact across all the individual portal views. I often want to take information or interactions from one portal and share them with another by republishing it. I often also want to contribute thoughts directly to one or more communities without having to navigate through the different portals. I can also connect blogs and social portals etc. Now we are talking social network.

I have also found the best way to describe this is to show it. So I vow in the coming days to do some screen cast discussions. Many people that follow Attensa and this blog are very familiar with RSS so you may already be thinking about these topics but I hope that the discussions will help expand the view of RSS as a framework “publish-subscribe” networks. Within business organizations these are powerful concepts that connect not only workplace social applications but also core IT systems and people directly. The implications for innovation, efficiency and competitiveness are big.

On the issue of social portals and social networks, I hope that the market will begin to make some distinctions that are not being made today. That may be too much to ask of the same group that came up with “marketecture” terms such as “social graphs” but we can hope. In the end I guess you can call it anything you want as long as the result is connected, productive and profitable.

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