by: Nancy Baym
Web 2.0 is supposed to be all about harnessing the wisdom of crowds, playing simultaneously off the glorification of the individual via personalized profiles and services and the algorithmic magic that happens when individual data is mined.
But inbetween there’s the critical level of community — remember that term they all love to throw around in press releases? I know, newsgroups, webboards, mailing lists: it’s all so… Web 1.0. Is it a rejection of Web 1.0, strengths and all, that fuels the shockingly poor management of groups on sites like Facebook and Last.fm?
I “lead” 2 groups on each of those sites, and belong to many others. Almost daily I shake my head in disbelief that people who devote their lives to building social networks would be so inept at supporting the voluntary *group* affiliations people build through their sites.
For instance, neither site provides me any means of being notified when new members join my groups. Neither provides a means of seeing which members are newly joined. In a group like Internet Researchers on last.fm, I can figure it out because they list members in order of joining, and there aren’t very many members. In a group like the Association of Internet Reseachers on Facebook, with over 800 members who appear in random order every time they’re listed, there is simply no way to tell. Opportunities for welcoming new members? So Web 1.0!
Neither site does a remotely adequate job of informing any group member when there are new things happening in a group. Facebook provides the ‘groups’ link. Apparently, group interaction is not worthy of NewsFeed status — I am notified every time a friend joins a group, but never notified when someone opens a new line of discussion in a group to which I already belong. The groups page you get when you click that link is pathetic. You can’t click to see which new people have joined, you can’t click to go directly to the new posts. It requires continuous individual mining of each group’s page to see if there are discussions happening. You’re continuously prodded to join new groups via the listings of groups friends have joined, but there’s no support for making those groups work.
Last.fm has a similar “groups” page, except for that it offers absolutely no information about activity in the groups. The “recommending reading” is supposed to tell you if there’s new discussion in the groups to which you belong, but it rarely bothers to let you know which group a new post comes from, as though that absolutely essential piece of information does not matter. About the only thing Last.fm does right with groups is in identifying which songs and musicians each group recommends and letting you turn off recommendations from any group.
These sites have extraordinary potential to foster networking at the group level. Yet they persistently fail to leverage that by providing meaningful scaffolding to support group interactions. If groups can’t carry on effective discussions and group members don’t have easy ways to see who’s joined and how discussion is progressing, groups become what they are in both of these spaces: identity badges, labels we can put on our profiles to help categorize us. It’s a grotesque waste of the power of human connection and cannot serve either site well.
And don’t even get me started on how terrible the mechanisms are for searching for groups of possible interest in each site.
Are there any social network sites that really help members create communities rather than one-on-one connections?