"I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t get the rules." I can say that for just about every social network I join. And the problem is, increasingly, everything is a social network.
I follow lots of people on Pinterest. Mostly, because I signed up through Pinterest via my Facebook account (via OAuth) and it auto-followed all of my friends. I wasn’t expecting that. Wasn’t too thrilled about it, either. I can’t stand the idea of spamming anybody. Sorry. I don’t know what I’m doing.
I’ve thought a lot recently about my online identity. How are all the “mark wunsch” text strings across the web unified to point to me?1 As my personal data becomes distributed across multiple applications, they all need to know their place. They all need to co-exist and be good social citizens. I’ve recently begun evaluating every application and service I’ve signed up for in order to determine where it fits into my needs2. That’s probably something I should have done before I signed up for the damn thing, but working in the technology industry, there’s a fairly well-accepted understanding that we should know about this stuff.
Here is a list of my favorite “social networks”, though they might not immediately appear to be social at all. They are applications that allow social connections in such a way that I wish other applications would emulate.
The site that bills itself as “Social Bookmarking for Introverts” is minimally social, but offers so much utility. It can read my links from other networks if I want, but I don’t. Other people can subscribe to my bookmarks, if they want. Its creator wrote one of my favorite pieces about social application design (one of my favorite pieces period).
Here’s a quote from Marco, writing about the motivation of the introduction of social features into Instapaper:
Instapaper takes advantage of your social networks to let you easily share what you’re reading and give you recommendations when you want them (and only then), but remains a quiet escape from the social networks when you just want to read.
What I love about Tumblr is that when you sign up, all it is is a blogging engine. The social features are completely optional. When you begin following people an entirely new dimension opens up. But I went a long time on Tumblr without following anyone. How lovely that it’s there, only should you desire.
I hope VHX.tv blows up to be huge. This is another site where the social behavior is completely optional, but there is a big benefit to connecting it to the social networks you are already a part of. If someone I follow on Twitter tweets a link to a video, it goes onto VHX. If someone I follow on Tumblr reblogs a video, it goes onto VHX. VHX has become my preferred form for watching videos. Social behavior is completely unnecessary since the channels on VHX are already wonderfully curated, but by allowing VHX access to other parts of my online identity, I gain a network that exists to just feed me videos picked by people I trust.
All of these applications ease the user into social behavior. They don’t obligate the user to do anything other than use the application for its unique purposes. Their implementations of social connections allow the user to feel comfortable. Its lovely. It makes me feel like I might know what I’m doing.