A Good Idea?

I was recently reading some tech headlines and came across some news that brought me back to some old ideas I once had. There was this article about Google’s and Yahoo’s failed attempts at getting in on the social networking scene and their future plans to make up for lost time, as well as a few others.

Well, these articles got my little gears going and I started thinking about what the next big thing in social networking might be. I thought about how there are three basic kinds of people that use the Internet, and everyone either falls into one of these categories, or they are somewhere close to one or two of them.

The first kind of Internet user is the near-addict (or even just straight-up addict). These are the guys who edit Wikipedia, have accounts at all the major social networks, blog, probably use Twitter, and find themselves spending more time on line than off. I’m close to this category, but I really try to spend more time off line with my family than on line, though some days I’m on line quite a bit. This group is mostly satisfied with current social networks, but they will always welcome new ideas and developments. They follow news on line, and know when something new is happening so they can get in on the action.

The second group of people is, I think, the largest. My wife definitely falls into this category. This is the group that uses the Internet casually; for news, to keep in touch with friends and family, and for limited entertainment purposes. If they have a social networking profile, it’s because someone talked them into it or asked them to, but they don’t really see the point in doing so much on line social activity when they can spend time with people in real life in real, physical ways. These people are largely uninterested in new on line trends unless some kind of curiosity is sparked or the new trend appeals to one of their special interests.

The final group of people is slowly dying off from natural causes. No offense to anyone, but these people are mostly of the older generation that just doesn’t see the point in all of this Internet business, or they simply don’t like computers and technology (some of these people may not be that old, but they are old fashioned nonetheless). These people probably wouldn’t even sign up for a social networking profile even if begged and bribed. If they finally set up a profile, it would never get updated again after they first set it up.

Current social networks appeal mostly to group one, and a little to group two, but they are full of people who fall somewhere in between the two categories. Interestingly, there is the Opentext enterprise network that is designed for people of the third type that don’t want to design, maintain and use a social network. I know someone somewhere is going to read that and say, “no it’s not, you’re wrong.” Look, I know what Opentext is, but its ideas hint at a future social network built on similar principles, that would not require constant attention by its users – you create an account that automatically updates itself based on your activity in the real world via your planner. I know that’s not exactly what Opentext is, but we could see something similar soon for everybody.

So this got me thinking. What if a social network didn’t require attention from the user, but if the user wanted to updated it they could? Basically, it came down to a question of how to appeal to all three groups rather than just one or two of them. The perfect social network would allow users to participate to a degree of their own liking rather than only appealing to those willing to edit and update all the time.

That’s when the idea of wikis came into the mix. Wikis are popular among users of highly diversified levels of involvement in the process. Many users simply read the information and never add to it or modify it. People who want a deeper level of interaction with the site/information can have it, and nobody is left out (except group three, but we’ll get to that).

What if we somehow married the features of a wiki with the features of a social network? I worked out a lot of the details last night while I was trying to sleep, and this morning I did some looking around to see if anyone else has had the idea. It seems it has been and is being tried by some, but they aren’t doing it the way I would. If what I am about to describe already exists, please send me the link so I can sign up.

For me, the biggest benefit of this new idea is the ability to include group three. Keep in mind, group three doesn’t really want to interact with the Internet. When it comes to social networks, that means there are holes in people’s networks where their group three friends and family members would be. How many times have you looked at your friend list and thought, “Man, I wish I could add [so and so], I feel like this list of friends would be complete if I could add them.” I know I’ve got friends who avoid the Internet (or are just bad at keeping up to date with their communications) and I’ve got lots of family who will never sign up for a social network.

Who doesn’t use e-mail though? How many people are there out there who truly don’t use e-mail? Not nearly as many as those who don’t use social networks. Even people who try to avoid the Internet are likely to have an e-mail account of some kind. Even if they only know someone who has an e-mail account, somehow, almost everyone can be contacted through e-mail. Especially if they have a respectable job, there aren’t many large corporations that don’t set their employees up with e-mail.

So lets say you’re a group one Internet junkie who already has a bunch of social networking profiles and you hear about my new service (which isn’t really a reality yet, as far as I know) called WikiSocialNet (wikisocial.com is owned by some strange corporate social networking solution, and WikiSocial is a mostly traditional social network by Wikipedia – obviously I would need to think of a cooler name than WikiSocialNet). My service, which we will continue to refer to as WikiSocialNet, would be based on the OpenSocial infrastructure which is supported by MySpace, Google and Yahoo, but it would have the added features of a wiki.

In the article I mentioned before about an attempt at mixing social networks with wikis, the author mentions that the site has the user profiles locked down from editing. WikiSocialNet would not require such action, but instead be based on the principle of community editing withing a social circle. It’s all about privileges.

Here’s how my idea works. First of all, I’d be willing to bet that just about everyone on Earth, whether they be a group one, two or three Internet personality, has friends from all three groups. So, someone who is from group three and hates the Internet, probably has friends who fall into (or closer to) groups two and one, even if most of their friends are also from group three; and people in groups one and two have friends from group three who are not in their friend lists. This is an important aspect of WikiSocialNet. The goal, then, is to use this idea to build social circles that are 100% complete rather than filled with the holes created by our group three friends.

To illustrate how the site would work, I’ll use myself as an example. We’ll look at it from my perspective, my wife’s perspective (she’s from group two) and one of my childhood friends’ perspective (he’s a group three). I won’t share my friend’s real name, but we’ll call him Bill.

In this incredibly simplified social circle, I’ve got only two friends. One is my wife, the other is my best friend from grade school, and we’ll say I work with him now so he’s a coworker (which he is not in real life). Since I follow Internet news pretty regularly, I heard of this new site called WikiSocialNet (anyone have any better ideas for a name?) and I sign up. Signing up is free and requires an e-mail address that works, my full name (though I can choose a different name for the public profile or just go by my first name), and my full date of birth (again, I don’t have to display the whole thing on my public profile, and it would not be encouraged). There will be an additional set of optional information that I can fill in at the time I sign up, later or even never.

I can upload a photo (or more than one) and chose one for my profile photo, or I can skip that. Since the site is a wiki, anything I don’t do now I can do later, or one of my authorized friends can do it for me.

The site can access my e-mail address book to look for additional friends on the network, but before I can add them to my friend list they have to approve it. From my address book, we’ll say there were two e-mails that had already registered with the site. One was my brother, and the other a good friend from college. So, next to their e-mail addresses, I choose the relationship based on groups they have already set up (family, friends, classmates, coworkers, etc.) or I can create a new group and apply to be in that one (best friends, for example). I can chose more than one group for each person, then submit the application.

They then receive an e-mail and a message in the site that I am applying for the relationship(s) and they can approve or deny individual aspects of the application. In addition, they can decide how much editing power I will have for their profile by allowing me the basic rights they’ve already assigned to the group I will be in, or adding me as an administrator of their profile so I can edit, and approve other aspects such as their friend requests and who else should be allowed to edit their profile.

Both my brother and this friend from college are close to me, and they have their close friends and family approved for editing their profiles. So, I notice that my brother doesn’t have a photo of himself on the site, and my college friend didn’t put any additional information about herself when she signed up. I can do that for them. I am from group one, and I spend more time on line than they do, so this type of behavior is normal and fun for me, even if they find it annoying to be on line doing that sort of thing. So, over the course of the next couple of hours, I decide to update my friend’s profile and add some photos of my brother to his profile. Then I remember some photos I have of my friend from college, and upload those as well. My brother’s changes show up immediately, but my friend requires that she approve all changes to her profile information, so those won’t show up until she approves them.

If any of my college friend’s other friends end up making similar changes to the ones I made before she approves them, the changes will be displayed to her side by side, and she can choose the one she likes best or integrate them to her liking. The point is, most of the work has already been done for her. She likes that, because she just wants to use the social network to keep in touch with people, not to sit around typing about herself and uploading photos.

Once I’m satisfied with what I’ve done to those two profiles, I check my watch and see that it’s only ten at night. Still early. So, I decide to invite my good friend from grade school and my wife to the site. To do this, I need, as a minimum, their full name and an e-mail address they actually use. I search for them using the name and e-mail address. If they don’t already have profiles on the site, then an invitation will be sent to their e-mail address. I have e-mail for both my wife and Will, and I know their full names. I also know my friend, Will doesn’t check his e-mail very often. The good thing is that when I invite him to the site, a privately viewable profile page (only for me) will be created in Will’s name, which I can edit to my liking until he approves it for public viewing, or just for viewing by friends or friends of friends, and makes his own changes if he desires.

I can also create a profile for my wife when I invite her. If I choose not to spend too much time doing this, the profile will only contain the information required for inviting them (full name and e-mail address). So, from my wife’s perspective, here’s how it will work from here.

The next day she will check her e-mail and see the invitation. The mailed invitation will not simply contain a link back to the site, but will display some simple options for how to react to the invitation. Too many options and most group two and three people will shy away. The e-mail might read something like this:

Dear [Wife] (real name goes here),

Your [husband] (relationship of the person who submitted the invitation), [Brian] (name of submitter) has created a profile (link takes them to their newly created profile) for you on the WikiSocialNet social networking site. This is a site where everyone can be part of their friend’s, peer’s and family member’s circles without having to do all the work involved in other popular networking sites.

You can do as much customization as you want, or do none at all – you choose. If you want to fill in information about yourself, you can. If you don’t feel like it, you can let your friends and family do it for you. If you’re interested, you can even edit the profiles of those friends and family members who want your help maintaining their profiles as well. Our goal is to bring everyone together without forcing anyone to do the work of maintaining a profile.

You are in control of who sees and edits what. Please select one of the basic options below in response to this e-mail, or log in to the site if you want even more control over your account.

The WikiSocialNet Team

Below the text a few links with some basic options will be displayed:

  • Approve my account and take me there so I can get started!
  • Approve the creation of my profile, and allow [Brian] (name of inviter) administrative privileges to handle my profile for me.
  • Approve the creation of my account but keep it private for only the friends and family I approve.
  • Deny the creation of my account – I don’t want to be part of anyone’s social network on the web.

I believe the above four links would provide enough control over what happens with respect to the profile for each of the three groups to be satisfied, and discourage the flat-out refusal of a profile’s creation. My wife, then would probably click on the first or second link (depending on how fun the graphics are in the e-mail and how interesting it looks) and her profile would be approved based on those settings (in the link she clicks). Either way, she’ll probably add me as an administrator to her account and I will have control over who is approved or denied as her friends, relatives, etc. in addition to being able to edit her profile, set security settings for which groups can edit and what kinds of changes need approval, as well as deny or approve those edits to her profile.

As for my friend, he probably won’t get back to me for a month or two. In the mean time, I will be the sole owner and administrator of his account, and other people who search for him will be notified that he does have an account that has not been approved yet. They can ask to be his friend, but the notification will be sent to his e-mail address. When he logs in to check his e-mail he will see the e-mail alerting him of his profile’s creation, as well as a bunch of additional e-mails from other friend requests showing him how popular he is. Hopefully, this will encourage him to get involved or at least approve his account.

By the end of that first evening, I will probably have found at least one other classmate to add to my friends, as well as a couple random people who wanted to be my friends. I will have created, then the following groups with the following people in them (most of which will be pending approval):

Administrators (can approve/deny friend requests and edits for me and edit the profile) –
[my Wife, my best friend Will]
Family (can edit my profile) –
[my Wife, my brother]
Best Friends (can edit my profile) –
[my Wife, Will, friend from college]
Other Friends (cannot edit my profile, can see full profile) –
[other classmate]
Coworkers (can edit the parts of my profile that I allow them to see/edit) –
Random People (cannot edit my profile, can only see what I want them to see) –
[the two people I don’t really know but wanted to be my friends]

You’ll notice that some people are in more than one group, and that each group has different privileges. The person will have the privileges of the most privileged group they are in. For example, my wife is in three groups, but she will have the privileges of the Administrators group because the other two groups have slightly fewer privileges. Will is in two groups, but will have the privileges of the Best Friends group which has the higher privileges. This aspect of the social network has a lot in common with a previous post of mine about the future of social networking and how it will integrate with cell phones and the rest of society. Then, however, I couldn’t figure out a good way to include everyone from all three groups. I believe I’ve got the answer here though. What do you think?

Well, looking back I see that this post has gotten quite long. I hope it was justified (I feel it was). This is something I tend to do when explaining technical details – I include ALL of the details. If I have forgotten any aspects of this idea, I will update this post and include a new post with the details of the update.

If you actually read all of this (and understood it) I want to know what you think. If you are a web developer and are interested in bringing this idea to life, go for it. I really should try to make money on my ideas, but I’m more interested in seeing my ideas become reality than dealing with copyrights and programmers. However, if you decide to do this and you become rich, I ask that you remember me!


3 Responses to “A Good Idea?”

  1. 1 Rochelle April 28, 2008 at 10:59 am

    What a great idea. It would definitely work for me. I am the typical “type 2” person. Thank you for haring your interesting idea.

  2. 2 Andrea May 7, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    Hey there — I really like it, particularly the level of voluntary involvement. The relationship webs could get incredibly complicated… but, only if you want it to. For instance, some people have good friends, great friends, and best friends, but putting that into black and white terms is something not a whole lot of people are brave enough to do. If someone is a “best friend” but then drifts off in life, do you think it would help the relationship get back on track in the future if they find they’ve been downgraded to an “other friend”? Access levels are a great idea, but with maybe less obvious labels.

    On the other hand, you could be a level 3 and just have “friends” which suits many people just fine. 🙂

    I know that as a 1.5… ok, a 1.3 Type Internet User I would prefer to distinguish my relationship status publicly (after all, I didn’t go to all that work of getting married just to “not mention it”)but instead of calling someone my “other friend” I could tell them I’m giving them I’m labeling them as a friend with Access Level Foxtrot.

    Which brings up the interesting question of whether granting someone power over your personal matters ought to be privilege based vs. need based. But that’s a whole different train of thought.

  3. 3 Andrea May 7, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    Urg. Ignore typos. I not English major, and have many fingers and toes poking me while I type.

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